Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier said Carlson is making progress, but he won't play in the most important preseason game for the starters on Friday night against the San Diego Chargers.
"Hopefully we can get him back next week and start working on some timing and get him back included in our offense so it won't be quite an issue with the time we'll have between the Texans game and our first regular-season game," Frazier said. "We would have loved to have him this preseason to work with Kyle (Rudolph) and for Christian (Ponder) to get comfortable with him, but that just hasn't been the case."
Carlson hasn't practice yet with the Vikings since the knee injury on July 31. Frazier estimated the next day that Carlson would be out "a week or two." Tuesday will be three weeks, and last week Carlson was optimistic he would return to action before the regular-season opener.
"I hope to be back before then, but it's a day-to-day thing and we'll see how things progress," Carlson said.
"The trainers do a great job of pushing us but making sure we do the right thing for our health and being able to stay healthy for a whole season. I'm kind of relying on those guys and they're helping me along."
His immersion back into the offense would be a welcome sign for many of his teammates and coaches. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave wants to have an offense that rely on multiple-tight end formations.
"We're eager," Musgrave said of Carlson's eventual return. "I'm sure John is more eager than any of us coaches or teammates or administration. We want to have him be a contributor, so as soon as he can I know he'll be back out there with us."
Carlson was given a five-year, $25 million contract in March, despite missing the entire 2011 season with the Seattle Seahawks because of a shoulder injury. While they still have Kyle Rudolph as a legitimate pass-catching tight end in the lineup, the return of Carlson could help the offense.
Musgrave said he hopes the offense will become more versatile when Carlson returns, but it could take some time for him and Ponder to get their timing together again. That was just starting to come together before the Vikings had a break in their offseason action between minicamp and training camp. Then four days of practice into training camp, Carlson hurt his knee.
"Obviously he was new to this offense and he had to get comfortable," Ponder said. "Especially in minicamp, he was making plays. One thing that sticks out to me was we had that two-minute drill and he made that tight catch in coverage. He's really athletic; he's got great hands. He's a really smart guy even though he went to Notre Dame."
Until Carlson's return, the Vikings will patch things together with a trio of tight ends even less experienced than Rudolph, in his second season.
They selected Rhett Ellison in the fourth round of April's draft and he appears ready to be a versatile contributor in 2012, and behind him are two players – Allen Reisner and Mickey Shuler – who have struggled to fully establish themselves on an NFL roster.
"Rhett has done a nice job for a rookie, and then both Allen and Mickey had good games the other night in the passing game," Musgrave said. "All of them are really blocking well. I'm very pleased with that aspect because we're going to need it because we're going to run the football. I don't know that (Carlson's absence) has really altered the playcalling. It just has altered our depth there having four guys available rather than five."
"He's not going to get maximum work (Friday)," Musgrave said. "He's going to get more limited work because we are going to line up the guys and get familiar with the guys that will be lining up against Jacksonville."
"We're going to put him through his paces today and tomorrow and the following day. It's like a Wednesday for us with the Friday night kickoff," Musgrave said. "So another week will be good for his development and also for our ability to assess his status."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.