Vikings' Christian Ballard tones up in move to defensive tackle

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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn.†ó Christian Ballard represents the old school in his own, fashionable way.

Ballard, a former Iowa defensive lineman, stood in front of the television cameras Wednesday and pulled off his inside-out shirt. He put it back on the correct way, just so the Iowa 2010 Orange Bowl Champions emblem was well displayed.

"I wear this around the building just to show a little pride and a lot of times itís comfortable," said Ballard, a Minnesota Vikings defensive lineman. "Iíve got so many of them."

Ballard, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 283 pounds, enters his second year with the Vikings after starting 39 games at Iowa. Ballard was a versatile performer in college, starting 21 games at defensive end and 18 games at defensive tackle. He continued to fill that role last year in Minnesota as a rookie when he started two games and played in all 16.

But that role has changed this offseason. Ballard will move primarily inside to defensive tackle where he'll back up veteran Kevin Williams and compete in a rotation.

"I played (defensive tackle) my whole junior year and about mixed my senior year," Ballard said. "I played a little more end, but I think my athleticism and just Kevin being a great teacher has helped me learn a little more. I havenít played it that much during my career, but Coach (Brendan) Daly is here, Kevin is here, thereís a lot of good tackles here that are good role models and theyíre teaching me a lot."

"Those young guys that we have playing behind our starters are going to be very good players for us," Vikings Coach Leslie Frazier said. "Thatís one of the things we want to be able to do going forward is develop a rotation system where we can get Christian more snaps."

Ballard has taken a new attitude toward football this offseason. . He was drafted in the fourth round in 2011 but didn't join the team until August after a five-month NFL-imposed lockout. Instead of working with his coaches and teammates during the offseason ó which the lockout prevented†ó Ballard said he took the easy route and wasn't physically prepared for the NFL. He admitted he wasn't in top shape when he entered training camp and has vowed to change his workout routine.

"The lockout happened last year, and I definitely fell a victim to that," he said. "I wasnít really working out as much as I should have been. I had kind of been goofing off.

"Now Iíve just been up here, Iíve been up here since late January working out, up here doing some Tai Chi, doing some Yoga, making sure that my bodyís right, really trying to make sure I put my best foot forward this season."

Tai Chi and Yoga rarely if ever are mentioned by an Iowa defensive lineman. Ballard laughed when asked if he used those techniques while in Iowa City.

"Never been into that stuff, but itís definitely helped me a lot and cut my body fat down and get my hands a little faster," Ballard said. "Hopefully itís going to pay dividends this season.

"Iím trying to make sure I keep my strength up. I think my body strength was a cause of concern I guess coming out of the draft. I actually have done really well on that."

Ballard, who lives year-round in the Twin Cities, said he tries to keep up with his former Iowa teammates, who all met up at Karl Klug's wedding in April but hectic schedules prevent routine gatherings.

Ballard said he's willing to aid the Vikings in any capacity and help the team improve from its 3-13 record last year.

"It was kind of a tough year, but weíve got all the right people in all the right places," Ballard said. "Good coaching staff, good players, good athletes. Weíve just got to buy in to what the coach is saying and just keep working hard. I think weíve got a good start to the offseason so weíve got to keep working at it and good things are going to happen."    

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