Versatility a plus for former Hawkeye Ballard

Flexibility at Iowa aids current Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle (with video, slideshow)

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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn.†ó Christian Ballard started 39 games in his Iowa football career, which lasted through the 2010 season.

He was the Hawkeyes' most versatile defensive lineman from the 2007-2010 seasons, starting 21 games at defensive end and 18 at defensive tackle. That flexibility continues to serve Ballard, who enters his third season with the Minnesota Vikings.

Ballard (6-foot-4, 283 pounds) is listed as the Vikings' second-team defensive tackle behind perennial All-Pro Kevin Williams. But with the team drafting defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd in the first round, it's possible Ballard could shift back to the outside.

"Itís still early in camp so weíll see what happens later on in training camp, in the preseason," Ballard said at the Vikings' mini-camp this week. "Right now Iím still trying to perfect my under-tackle game and still learn from Kevin and still get in the chemistry with the guys. Itís been fun."

Ballard has played in 29 games the last two seasons in Minnesota with two starts at defensive tackle. Last year he competed in all 16 games, recorded one sack and recovered two fumbles. He shifted to defensive end in a pair of games last year so that's a possibility in the future.

"Last year we had a situation where Brian Robison got hurt in the St. Louis game, and I came in and filled in at little bit at the end spot there and helped out in the Texans game," he said. "I think thatís something that I can rely on to keep me in here and keep me playing. So I appreciate Iowa for letting me do that."

Ballard also displays his versatility on the kickoff team. A former tight end, Ballard shows enough speed and quickness to play the center back position. He stands near the 20-yard line as the center back and takes on the first opposing tackler.

"Christian is a great player," said Vikings guard Seth Olsen, a former Iowa teammate of Ballard's in 2007 and 2008. "You can see how versatile he is. He plays kickoff. A D-tackle playing kickoff on special teams and plays all over the field. Heís a real good athlete, and itís great to go against him in practice. Heís the same way in college that he is now. Heís just gotten better over the years."

Ballard worked on improving his upper-body strength and perfecting his technique during the offseason. He plans to stay in the Minneapolis area for most of the team's summer break before training camp begins in late July.

He's also more comfortable in the Vikings' defensive system now than in his previous two seasons.

"Iím loving it right now," Ballard said. "I know what Iíve got to do, I know what Iíve got to work on. So itís good to come out here and have a clear mind and focus on things Iíve got to do every single day. The goal is to get better as a player and make the team better. If I can do that every day, then Iím going home happy."

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