EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Jerome Felton was forced to watch the Minnesota Vikings’ first three games of the season away from the team that gave him a three-year contract in the offseason while serving a three-game suspension.
The Pro Bowl fullback watched the first two games by himself, but couldn’t stand to be alone for last week’s game, in which Minnesota went to 0-3 without Felton.
“I probably should’ve been (watching alone) because I was yelling and carrying on the whole time,” Felton said this week before the Vikings left for London. “I was tired after that game. I felt like I played the game.”
Felton finally gets to play this week as Minnesota hosts the Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL’s International Series game in London’s Wembley Stadium. Felton appreciates being back on the roster after serving his suspension for a DWI arrest in June 2012. Felton and the Vikings hope his return can restore a punch to the running game.
Felton made his first Pro Bowl appearance last year leading the way for MVP running back Adrian Peterson. Felton’s been left to watch a Minnesota running game that hasn’t looked like the big-play and efficient attack from last season. Peterson has been held under 100 yards rushing in two of the three games.
“This has definitely been one of the more frustrating periods of my life, just watching these last three weeks,” Felton said. “So you know, obviously, it’s not just me coming back that’s going to make the running game do what it needs to do, but I definitely think I can help and contribute. But it’ll be a team effort and we’ll get back on track.”
Peterson ripped off a 78-yard touchdown run on his first carry of the season, but has tallied just 2.99 yards per carry on the rest of his 68 carries and ranks fifth in the league in rushing. Last year, with Peterson and Felton together for the first time, Peterson averaged 6.0 yards per carry with Felton opening holes on many of Peterson’s big runs.
“I think it will have a positive impact,” Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier said. “He’s a Pro Bowl player, really helped our run game a year ago quite a bit. So we look forward to having him back.”
The Vikings tried to fill Felton’s lead-blocking role with undrafted rookie Zach Line and third-string, blocking tight end Rhett Ellison. Frazier complimented Line for his work, but he was making the transition from college runner to NFL blocker. Ellison missed most of the past two games because of injury.
Peterson, who once preferred running out of one-back sets and not having a fullback in front of him, values Felton, maybe more so after his absence.
“Felton, he’s a big part of our run game,” Peterson said. “Just based on the first couple of weeks, Zach Line and Rhett Ellison, those guys did a great job of filling in the space. But now, I can say that there is some type of confidence that I feel just knowing what type of guy he is, knowing his approach and his mentality. He’s a guy I know I can count on, so, yeah it feels good to have him back.”
Felton feels good to have the arrest — the charges were reduced to reckless driving — and suspension behind him, saying the situation was “hanging over my head.”
“It’s a rough feeling,” Felton said. “It’s not a good feeling at all. It makes you appreciate the position you’re in, appreciate your teammates, appreciate the organization for sticking behind me and encouraging me these last three weeks, because at first I was pretty down about the whole situation, but they really helped me stay up. So now I’ll do my part on the field to help pick them up too.”
Felton flew with the team to London this week and has returned to practice. Line was placed on injured reserve to make room on the active roster for Felton. Felton, who was allowed to be around the team’s facilities during the suspension, said being away has “put that fire in me” and he’s been working hard to stay in shape.
With the 0-3 start, Felton knows he has to be ready to start fast and help Minnesota’s offense.
“We don’t have time for it to take a few weeks,” Felton said. “I’ve got to hit the ground running. That’s on me, and that’s what I’ll do, and I’ll practice hard this week and try to pick up where I left off. And I think once that happens, everything else will fall into place.”