Receivers coach still sorting things out

  • Article by: DAN WIEDERER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 9, 2012 - 7:46 AM

George Stewart is facing few certainties outside of Percy Harvin and Jerome Simpson in trying to mold a deep unit.

 

George Stewart can only laugh. He knows the uncertainty he's feeling and the challenge ahead.

As receivers coach for the Vikings, Stewart is working with 11 pass catchers who all offer intriguing skill sets. Yet now, exactly a month before the Vikings open the regular season, Stewart knows his detailed evaluations will help determine who stays and who goes.

The only certainty?

"I do know Percy Harvin will be on the field for us. And I know, after Week 3, Jerome Simpson will be on the field," Stewart said. "Beyond that, it's too early to say exactly who else is going to be where."

Simpson will miss the first three games of the regular season because of an NFL suspension. Even worse, the Vikings have lost rookie Greg Childs for the year because of patellar tendon tears in both knees.

So just how will the Vikings settle on the quintet of receivers they want to keep for the long haul? Behind Harvin and Simpson, we asked Stewart to shed light on the ongoing evaluations.

It will be hard for the Vikings to keep both Michael Jenkins and Devin Aromashodu. More probable: One stays, one goes.

What's the story? With Childs down, the window for Aromashodu opens. In spurts, he flashes eye-catching athleticism. He's 6-2. He's quick. He has long arms. He contributes on special teams. And the Vikings re-signed him to a one-year deal in part because of the glowing endorsement from Stewart. Still, for all his promise, the 28-year-old Aromashodu has only 67 career catches for 1,011 yards with five touchdowns. Stewart said he won't measure Aromashodu's success based on statistics alone. After all, Harvin, Adrian Peterson and Kyle Rudolph will demand the ball much more often.

What Stewart said: "Devin is still ascending. I see him making vast improvements week after week ... We've talked to him about making those great moment-of-truth plays down the field. What those are is that ball is in the air, the fans are out of their seats, 'Is he going to catch it? Is he not?' It's the moment of truth. Can Devin go snag it? He has done a great job in training camp of making those catches. Now that needs to continue in games."

• • •

Jenkins' age, cost and health might be deterrents as the Vikings make final evaluations.

What's the story? Jenkins is the wild card. He's 30, spent the last five weeks of 2011 on injured reserve because of a torn meniscus and will be owed $2.5 million if he's still on the roster opening day. Yet there might be a slight risk in getting rid of him. Keep in mind, it's imperative second-year quarterback Christian Ponder builds confidence early this season. And with Simpson out those first three games, Jenkins would provide veteran stability and a familiar target. Ponder and Jenkins connected 16 times for 268 yards and a touchdown in six games last season. That said, Jenkins looked slow during stretches of camp. He's either not fully recovered from knee surgery or age is simply catching up.

What Stewart said: "Father Time takes care of all of us. If Jenk could still run the way he did when he was 22, he'd be cheating Father Time. So with Michael, if he has his lapses, OK. But if we can get him to look like the old Michael one day a week, on Sunday, we're in business."

• • •

Keep an eye on Stephen Burton, whom the Vikings drafted in the seventh round in 2011 out of West Texas A&M.

What's the story? There's a belief inside the organization that Burton is rising quickly, now past the wide-eyed phase that came with being a rookie making a transition from Division II to the NFL. Stewart has peppered Burton with reminders to become a complete receiver, asserting that success in this league isn't only about making catches. Attention to detail as a blocker is vital.

What Stewart said: "His maturity and his football knowledge are much improved. Coming out of college, Stevie wasn't a great run blocker or a great finisher. He's now starting to finish. He's finishing [blocks] on the back side of runs. And if our backside receiver catches a pass, he's now downfield blocking. A year ago, he wasn't doing that. If his potential is realized, Stephen's a great fit. But potential is one thing. Showing you can do those good things repetitively is what we need to see."

The super sleeper in this year's receiving battle might be Manny Arceneaux.

What's the story? Once a star in the CFL, Arceneaux spent 13 weeks last season on the practice squad before getting a late promotion. His lone NFL catch was a 10-yarder in Week 15. Arceneaux is blessed with elite speed. Stewart also commends his savvy, decisiveness and route running.

What Stewart said: "He is the most improved player from one year to the next that I've had in 25 years coaching at the NFL level. Every team has to have a blue-collar player. That's his ticket. ... Hockey has those enforcer-type guys. That's what Emmanuel is. But don't let me lead you into thinking he's just a goon. He's got that skill set to be a weapon for us, too."

• • •

Rookie Jarius Wright's spot on the roster is probably safe, but he needs to show more.

What's the story? Wright's camp has been ordinary, and the Vikings have a couple of receivers in Kerry Taylor and Bryan Walters who share similar strengths as versatile receivers with special teams value. Wright will compete with Josh Robinson and Marcus Sherels for the punt returner job. He'll also be asked to be a utility receiver. The Vikings coaches like his understanding of space and his hunger to learn. Stewart calls him "a football junkie." Yet Wright has been slow to break through.

What Stewart said: "I know they had a pro-style offense at Arkansas, but they didn't play against pro-style athletes all the time. Great talent in the SEC. But now he's seeing pro talent at every position for the first time. And it's been a big transition for him."

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