Vikings fullback Zach Line's successful debut is the first step
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Line ultimately rumbled downfield for a 61-yard touchdown reception in the Vikings 27-13 preseason loss to the Texans on Friday, but without running back Matt Asiata effectively picking up the blitz -- Line wouldn't have received the ball.
While a catch and a score is beneficial, coach Leslie Frazier said plays like Asiata's make a strong case for the 53-man roster and Line will need to prove he can hold up in protection across the remaining preseason games.
"[Line] has to show that he is capable to take on linebackers," Frazier said. "Being able to pick up guys in protection, but the blocking aspect is as critical for our fullback as anything. Now the catch and run he made on Friday night is important, too. But we ask our fullbacks to be guys who can move people and he will have to show that."
Slotted behind Pro Bowl fullback Jerome Felton, Line saw plenty of work on Friday night and his heavy load should continue through these next few games.
"I think Jerome [Felton] played about two series and I played the rest of the game," Line said. "I was a little tired, got a work out in there, played special teams too. But that's what you want. You want to get on film, earn the respect of your teammates and coaches, hopefully I did that [Friday]."
Line has a long way to go in his evaluation process, but picking up blitzing linebackers may be the most critical work he sees this preseason as running back Adrian Peterson is unlikely to see many snaps, if any, and the Vikings only ran the ball 14 times with their running backs on Friday.
The Vikings had 33 pass attempts and Frazier said after the game that the emphasis is on the team's passing ability, as they obviously know what to expect with Peterson and the ground game.
It's well documented that the 23-year-old Southern Methodist product is second on the all-time rushing list at SMU to Eric Dickerson, but it's the protection of quarterback Christian Ponder, Cassel and others that will have a huge part in defining his place, or his absence, on the final roster.
As blood ran down his nose and over the five stitches he had put in last week, an exhausted Line celebrated after Friday's game, but reflected on one thought: there's a lot of work left to do.
"It definitely gets the jitters out of the way," Line said about the touchdown. "There's a lot left in the dream, you want to have a long successful career. Win championships, help the team win games. Personal stats are great but I want those to add up to wins for the team."