Duluth's C.J. Ham finding his groove in first year at fullback for Vikings
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Duluth native C.J. Ham grew up a Vikings fan, and was glued to the television in 2012 when Adrian Peterson rushed for 2,097 yards and was named NFL MVP.
Ham, then a redshirt freshman running back at Augustana University in Sioux Falls, S.D., wasn't just paying attention to Peterson that season. He was keeping a close eye on the fullback blocking for him.
"I liked Jerome Felton a lot," Ham said. "Adrian had some unbelievable years with him blocking in front of him. Obviously, (Felton) was doing something right."
Flash forward five years and Ham is Minnesota's fullback. While he won't make the Pro Bowl, like Felton in 2012, he's still having an efficient year.
Ham has been solid as a blocker and has had some timely touches. He has seven carries for 13 yards and a touchdown plus four receptions for 47 yards, including a 12-yard catch in last Sunday's 14-9 victory at Atlanta.
"I thought he played well," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. "He had a third-down conversion (a 1-yard run on third-and 1). He caught a pass and made a guy miss and had a nice run. He gets on the right guy, he blocks them, he's a good athlete, he does a great job on special teams. He's improving a lot."
Ham was undrafted in 2016 out of Augustana, a Division II program, and spent most of last season on the Vikings' practice squad. He was on the 53-man roster for the final two games but did not play.
Last spring, the Vikings decided not to re-sign free-agent fullback Zach Line, who held down the fullback spot for two years following Felton's 2012-14 tenure. That's when running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu approached Ham.
"He told me, 'It would be a good idea to learn some fullback as well,'" Ham said. "I just took it as an opportunity to get better and make myself more valuable."
With Dalvin Cook (now on injured reserve), Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon carrying the ball for the Vikings, it's unlikely Ham would have made the 53-man roster this season as a running back. But they always need a fullback.
Ham didn't get a lot of playing time in the first seven games, averaging 9.6 snaps per game. In the past five games, though, he has averaged 17.6 plays, including a career-high 25 against the Falcons.
"All the way through training camp, I was still learning" the position, said Ham, who did play a little fullback early in his college career. "I'm still learning today, but I'm getting better. I definitely am getting more confident each game and each practice."
The Vikings haven't hesitated to use Ham as a runner, including last week against the Falcons when his third-down conversation in the second quarter kept alive a drive that led to their first touchdown.
But the biggest surprise has been Ham's ability as a receiver. He has catches this season of 12 yards against Tampa Bay, 11 at Chicago and 12 against Baltimore before the one against the Falcons.
"A lot of defenses don't look at the fullback as a weapon or anything like that," he said. "But I'm just making sure that when I do get those touches, I do something with them, and I put myself in a position to get more."
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