Rice quietly making a big contribution

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 30, 2009 - 11:42 PM

Whether making a big catch or clearing a path for running backs, the receiver is healthy and on a roll.

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Sidney Rice scored the Vikings only touchdown of the first half, a 30-yard pass reception.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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Yes, Greg Lewis caught the winning touchdown pass from Brett Favre as the Vikings beat the 49ers 27-24 in the final two seconds Sunday.

And Percy Harvin ran a kickoff back 101 yards for a touchdown, tied for the second longest return in team history.

But one of the unsung receivers on the team is Sidney Rice, who is off to a great start as the Vikings have gone 3-0. The third-year receiver caught a 30-yard touchdown pass from Favre to put the Vikings in front 7-0 in the first quarter and wound up with four catches for 56 yards.

Through the first three games a year ago, the former South Carolina star, who was drafted in the second round in 2007, had two catches for 31 yards and one touchdown.

In the first three games this year, a healthy Rice has nine catches for 102 yards and one touchdown.

A year ago, Rice got hurt in that second game and then missed six games because of a problem with his knee.

However, while caching passes is something Rice naturally enjoys, he said blocking for Adrian Peterson and the other running backs is equally important.

"It's a team effort. You can't go out there and just expect to catch the ball," he said. "You have to go out and contribute to the team in other ways. I feel blocking is just as important as catching the ball."

Asked if he was a good blocker in college, Rice replied: "Yes. They had us blocking all the time, and when I got here they just carried it on. Every Wednesday we come out and do what we call 'Run Block Wednesday.' That's one thing we work on every day of the week no matter what."

On some of the good blocks he has made on Peterson's runs, he said: "You always have to be on your toes with Adrian running. One good block will spring him free. He's able to beat defenders by himself. If you are around and get a little piece of somebody, it increases the chances of him taking it the distance."

What's it like blocking for Peterson?

"It's tough sometimes, but it's also easy sometimes," Rice said. "He hits it so hard. He's a speedy guy, and has a lot of power. Our job is just to get our hands on our man and press up to him and make sure he doesn't make the play."

As for Favre, Rice said the quarterback is talking to him more.

"He's opening up more and more every day. I'm starting to learn different things about him," Rice said. "After being here with him for four weeks, I think he's a great person. He's a fun guy."

Is the ball he throws difficult to catch?

"We're working on it every day," Rice said. "We're getting more comfortable with each other. All our receivers are. Hopefully, it will continue to improve throughout the season."

Does Favre give you some ideas?

"Always. He's a great coach as well as a player," Rice said. "This is his 19th season, and he knows what to expect out there on the field. I try to get as many tips from him and learn from him. I'm just trying to contribute to this team in any way possible."

Decker Big Ten leader

Missing spring practice while playing with the baseball team didn't hurt Gophers receiver Eric Decker, who didn't play against the Badgers last year because of an ankle injury.

Decker has 35 catches and leads the Big Ten in receptions per game (8.8) and 124.8 yards per game. He has four touchdowns to tie for the conference lead.

"He's one of the hardest- working guys on the football team, and it shows," quarterback Adam Weber said. "Missing spring ball would hurt a lot of people, but that was just more incentive for Eric to work harder this summer. The ceiling is as high as he wants it to be for himself. He's going to have a big year. It's just my job to allow him to get some balls during games."

Jottings

Had punter Dan Orseske not come down with mono, Blake Haudan, a walk-on fifth-year senior from Toledo, Ohio, never would have punted for the Gophers. But Orseske's bad luck gave Haudan an opportunity, and he did a terrific job replacing Orseske, a highly recruited scholarship player. And now Haudan could punt the rest of the year.

The Gophers received their 17th commitment this week, from Jonathan Ragoo, a 6-7, 359-pound offensive tackle Miami's Monsignor Edward Pace High School.

There is no comparison in the preseason schedule that Wisconsin played -- winning over Northern Illinois (28-20), Fresno State (34-31) and Wofford (44-14) -- compared with the Gophers, who played Syracuse, Air Force and California. The Badgers are 4-0 after they beat Michigan State at home. The Gophers are 3-1 after winning at Northwestern. The Gophers have lost 12 of the past 14 games to the Badgers. However, the difference in preseason schedules is one reason the Gophers are favored to win this weekend.

While the Gophers are sold out for the season with 50,000 seats, the Badgers -- with 80,000 seats -- didn't sell out the Wofford game, ending a run of 41 consecutive sellouts at Camp Randall Stadium.

Darrell Bevell, the former Wisconsin quarterback and current Vikings offensive coordinator, holds the mark for the most passing yards by a Badger player against the Gophers. In the 1993 Gophers victory over the Badgers, Bevell completed 31 passes for 423 yards. ... Nate Tice, son of former Vikings coach Mike Tice, who is now an assistant with the Jacksonville Jaguars, is a backup freshman quarterback on the Badgers roster.

While former receiver Mel Anderson will be attending a reunion of the 1971 Gophers football team (the last coached by Murray Warmath) here this weekend, his son Isaac Anderson will be in a Badgers uniform. Isaac, a former Blake player, ranks third on the team in receiving with 10 receptions for 236 yards.

The Gophers hockey team has been ranked sixth in the nation in USA Today's preseason rankings. The Gophers are ranked fourth in the WCHA media and coaches polls. ... Gophers forward Jordan Schroeder has been selected as the WCHA preseason player of the year by media and coaches.

Highly touted Gophers wrestler Ryland Geiger has left the Gophers and transferred to Clackamas Community College in Oregon. Geiger is a two-time Oregon prep champion, and was 19-3 with the Gophers.

Former Wild defenseman Martin Skoula signed a one-year contract with the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins after tryouts with Florida and Columbus. ... Former Wild forward Marian Gaborik was one of the 10 New York Rangers players presenting the "Top 10 List" on Wednesday's episode of "Late Show with David Letterman."

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com

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