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Updated: April 30th, 2011 11:30am
Vikings take another chance in fourth, rescue Iowa's Christian Ballard

Vikings take another chance in fourth, rescue Iowa's Christian Ballard

by Tom Pelissero
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- For the second straight year, the Minnesota Vikings opened the NFL Draft's final day by rescuing a defensive lineman from his free fall over character questions.

This time, it was Iowa's Christian Ballard, who was projected as a second-day pick before reports emerged he tested positive for marijuana at the NFL scouting combine in February.

"You get all kinds of emotions," Ballard said in a conference call with Twin Cities reporters on Saturday, shortly after the Vikings drafted him 106th overall.

"Of course, everyone wants to get taken earlier. But yeah, this is motivation. Just going to fight for that next contract, going to do whatever I can so I can get on the field early and use everything I can and all my abilities just so I can play and help the team win. Hopefully, we just get this going and I'll be a good Viking in the future."

A three-year starter who played end and tackle for the Hawkeyes, Ballard (6-foot-4, 283 pounds) said the Vikings plan to use him at defensive tackle -- a position of need, with nose tackle Pat Williams unlikely to return and Kevin Williams expected to serve his long-delayed four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on banned substances.

Neither Ballard nor Vikings vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman would confirm Ballard flunked the drug test, both referring to the issue as "confidential."

Said Spielman, "We felt very comfortable with his character concerns and felt very comfortable with the interview process we had with him, and he will be a great rookie show at minicamp with his ability to play the cello."

Iowa recruited Ballard -- the great-nephew of the late blues legend Hank Ballard, who wrote and recorded "The Twist" -- to play tight end but moved him to the defensive line before his true freshman season.

In 49 college games (39 starts) for the Hawkeyes, Ballard recorded 153 tackles, including 60 solo, 21½ for loss and 12 sacks. His most productive season came as a junior in 2009, when he had 54 tackles, 5½ sacks and five additional pressures.

"I never played defensive line prior to college, and the coaches put me in a position so I could succeed in the NFL," Ballard said. "My fundamentals are good and I have a good base and I excel in that. But I definitely think my athletic ability has definitely helped me out, and I'm just looking to refine my techniques."

Asked what part of his game needs the most work, Ballard said, "Probably just keep my pad level down, work on my hands a little more. It's not just one part of my game -- I can get better in every part of my game, and that's what I'm going to try to look to do."

The 22-year-old Kansas native  is the latest in a recent line of fourth-round defensive linemen selected by the Vikings, including Edwards, Brian Robison and Everson Griffen, who impressed in limited action as a rookie last season and then was arrested twice in a three-day span in January.

Ballard may have been drafted far earlier if not for his own off-the-field questions, but he insisted he wasn't disappointed.

"I know I've made mistakes in the past, and I'm looking forward to the future," Ballard said. "I'm a Viking now. Whatever I had in the past is behind me, and now the only thing that's on my mind is just trying to play for the Vikings, make them a Super Bowl team."

The vitals

• Ran the 40-yard dash in 4.85 seconds at his pro day.

• At the combine, had a vertical jump of 31½ inches and ran the three-cone drill in 7.54 seconds and the 20-yard shuttle in 4.51 seconds.

The tape

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero