Jenkins, for one, is catching on

  • Article by: KENT YOUNGBLOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 27, 2011 - 8:55 PM

Through the Vikings' winless start, Michael Jenkins has been a bright spot among a wide receiver corps that hasn't produced many explosive plays.

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Vikings receiver Michael Jenkins, making one of his nine catches vs. Detroit, leads the team with 15 receptions for 143 yards.

Photo: Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

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Already you can see the trust forming between Vikings quarterback Donovan McNabb and receiver Michael Jenkins.

The numbers don't lie. In three losses, as the Vikings offense has struggled to find its rhythm for a full four quarters, McNabb increasingly has turned to Jenkins. That certainly was true Sunday against Detroit, when McNabb targeted Jenkins 11 times, resulting in nine completions for 88 yards. Five of those catches resulted in first downs for the Vikings. And this indicates two things:

First, that Jenkins, signed after being cut by Atlanta last summer, is proving a productive addition.

But the fact that Jenkins -- a capable target effective in short- and medium-deep routes -- is the Vikings' leading receiver points out how desperately they need to find a deeper threat to line up on the other side.

But first Jenkins. The first-round draft pick of the Falcons in 2004 always has been a steady receiver known for running sharp routes and being willing to fight for a contested ball. The fact that he never turned into a big playmaker, given his draft status, prompted some to label him a disappointment.

Unfair, perhaps, considering the 6-4, 215-pounder was drafted by a Falcons team looking for both production and blocking from its wide receivers. Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave was coaching quarterbacks in Atlanta while Jenkins was there. The fact that the Vikings moved quickly on the receiver when he became available suggests Musgrave's confidence in him.

In the season opener at San Diego, Jenkins caught all three passes thrown his way. Ditto for Week 2 against Tampa Bay. Against the Lions, his production really took a jump. As a result Jenkins, who leads the Vikings with 15 receptions for 143 yards and a touchdown, is on pace for his best season. Jenkins, who had a career-high 53 receptions in 2007, is on pace for 80 this season.

"I feel I still have a lot to prove," Jenkins said. "Including that I can be a great receiver in this league. So I'm just trying to go out and work hard. Every ball that comes my way, I'm trying to come down with it."

It shows.

"He does a great job running routes and getting to the spot, and he can catch the football," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "He does a good job of wherever the ball is, he has a wide radius when it comes to catching the football. He's running precise routes and developing rapport with the quarterback."

The question is, can the Vikings find a receiver other than Jenkins or Percy Harvin who can earn that trust? On a team struggling so much at crunch time, it has to happen; so far, none of the team's wide receivers has a reception longer than 24 yards.

Bernard Berrian, who has played more than any of the other Vikings wide receivers, has yet to develop a connection with McNabb. Berrian's biggest asset was thought to be his ability to stretch defenses vertically with his speed. But there is some question whether he still can do that consistently, though he did get behind his defender late in Sunday's game, only to be overthrown by McNabb.

Frazier said the team will continue to try to get the ball to Berrian, who has caught only one of the 10 passes thrown his way.

"It's just about getting that separation and getting in situations where we feel like we have a chance to get him the football," Frazier said. "It's something that we're going to need between Donovan and Bernard, especially downfield making some plays."

But is it time to in another direction? Frazier said the Vikings weren't looking at available free agent receivers. But what about giving another receiver a chance? There might not be a player with blazing speed, but perhaps someone better at going up and fighting for the ball.

Jenkins, meanwhile, will continue to try to catch every ball thrown his way.

"That's what you work on all through training camp and the preseason," Jenkins said. "You try to get to the point where [the quarterback] knows you will fight for the ball, knows you'll be accountable. I just try to be that guy."

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