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New Vikings wide receiver Michael Jenkins (right)

Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune file

Hartman: WR Jenkins might be pleasant surprise

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN
  • Star Tribune
  • August 25, 2011 - 9:14 PM

The geniuses who analyze NFL teams report that one of the many weaknesses of the 2011 Vikings is at receiver, a notion the team's outstanding wide receivers coach, George Stewart, disagrees with 100 percent.

One reason some experts have that opinion is because of the loss of Sidney Rice, who had one great season in 2009 for the Vikings with 83 catches and eight touchdowns, but he left via free agency to sign with the Seattle Seahawks for a five-year, $43 million deal (with $18.5 million guaranteed), a price Vikings owners weren't going to come close to matching.

One reason Stewart is high on his group of receivers is the presence of Michael Jenkins, who Stewart was instrumental in drafting out of Ohio State when he was on the Atlanta Falcons staff in 2004.

"I drafted Michael Jenkins. He's a blessing in disguise," Stewart said. "He comes here, he brings leadership, he brings veteran experience, he's able to catch the ball, he's able to stretch the field, he's a great run-blocker. All those things combined into one. We're glad to have Michael Jenkins here."

The 6-4 wide receiver had 276 receptions, 3,512 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns for the Falcons over seven seasons.

After the Falcons drafted wide receiver Julio Jones with the sixth overall pick in April's NFL draft, Jenkins became available to the Vikings as a free agent. The Falcons' decision to not keep Jenkins was mostly because of cap reasons, but Stewart is all the happier for it.

"We have Percy Harvin, we have Bernard Berrian, so we needed a guy like Michael Jenkins to have a chance to be successful," Stewart said.

"Our scouting department and [vice president of player personnel] Rick Spielman have done a great job of providing us with depth," Stewart said. "You talk about a Juaquin Iglesias, Devon Aromashodu, Manny Arceneaux, Jaymar Johnson, Greg Camarillo ... we have some guys competing for that last spot on our roster that are good football players. So hopefully the way this thing will shake out, hopefully we end up with two good football players."

As for Rice, Stewart said: "Sidney was hurt and the injuries that he had were legitimate injuries. He had a knee, he had an ankle, he had a hip, legitimate injuries, they were not tic-tac injuries and those can happen to anyone. He was snakebit, so to speak. He did have a great year [in 2009], and I wish him well in Seattle."

One ability Rice had was to get open deep and catch the long ball. The big question is whether any of the current Vikings receivers can replace Rice in that regard.

Shortell produces

One thing Jerry Kill and his Gophers football staff can thank former coach Tim Brewster and his coaches for is recruiting freshman Max Shortell, who was ranked the 21st-best quarterback in the country and the fifth-best football player in the state of Kansas by Rivals.com.

To date Shortell, who is the second-team quarterback behind MarQueis Gray, has lived up to all of his recruiting buildup.

"First of all, it's hard to recruit 6-6, and he's 225 pounds and he moves much better than I thought he would, to be honest with you," Kill said the other day. "He's been able to handle the heat of competition and that's in him all the time, too, because I want to find out if he can handle it and handle the pressure.

"It's hard to learn quarterback. And if his steps don't go the right way, the wrong way or whatever, he's hearing about it. And he's handled it well. He studies the game, he works hard at it, and again he's got 'want to.'

"And if you take a kid who has 'want to' and wants to put the extra time in at quarterback, you better put the extra time in. If he wants to do it, he can do it. I think his arm is a little bit tired. We've thrown a ton of balls now, a ton of balls, but I've been pleased with his progress to this point."

Shortell must be pretty good because Michigan, with great scouting reports on him, tried hard to get him to change his mind and become a Wolverine.

Fortunately, he enrolled in summer school and kept his commitment to the Gophers despite pressure from Ann Arbor.

Jottings

• The Baltimore Orioles had won 18 road games coming into their series with the Twins this week, then won four in a row at Target Field. Their pitching staff had a 5.03 ERA on the road but posted a 1.00 ERA against the Twins, allowing only four runs in four games. The last time the Orioles swept a four-game series was against the Texas Rangers on July 8-11, 2010.

• According to the Los Angeles Times, Timberwolves basketball star Kevin Love has turned to volleyball and recently played some in the Manhattan Beach Open, a pro tournament that is dubbed the Wimbledon of sand. He lost his first match in straight sets. But Love was quoted as saying that playing volleyball is "addicting" and wants to try it again. ... Love, whose four-year, $14.8 million contract ends after this season, hasn't forgotten basketball and is working out daily with the Bulls' Derrick Rose and the Thunder's Russell Westbrook in Los Angeles.

• Former Gophers kicker Rhys Lloyd, who was with the Vikings and Charlotte last season, is now with the Giants. ... Former St. Cloud State and Vikings quarterback Todd Bouman, who has been in and out of the NFL, is now back with Jacksonville.

• Twins 2010 first-round draft pick Alex Wimmers is working his way back for the Class A Fort Myers Miracle after the righthander had terrible control issues at the start of the season. He made his first start in more than four months Aug. 16 when he pitched four innings giving up one run on two hits with three walks and four strikeouts. Wimmers also had his most impressive outing Aug. 6, when he recorded his first victory by pitching four innings of relief, striking out six while walking none.

• Former Gophers wide receiver Arland Bruce was named the Canadian Football League offensive player of the week this week. Bruce is playing for the B.C. Lions and caught nine passes for 129 yards with two touchdowns in their victory over Edmonton last week.

• Jay Cutler liked what he saw in former Gophers running back Marion Barber III's second preseason debut for the Chicago Bears on Monday night. Speaking to ESPNChicago.com, Cutler said of Barber: "Downhill guy. Makes great cuts. I think he's got real good vision inside the tackle box. I think we need to incorporate him a little bit more, probably." Barber rushed 13 times for 49 yards.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com

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