Vikings' rookie Burton: 'This is awesome'

  • Article by: DAN WIEDERER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 27, 2011 - 12:57 PM

Stephen Burton, a receiver out of Division II West Texas A&M, was happy just to be drafted by the Vikings. Now he might have a chance to play.

George Stewart has a saying, borrowed from his mother, that he likes to use as motivation for his players.

"If opportunity knocks and you're not ready," the Vikings receivers coach says, "that's your fault."

No wonder rookie Stephen Burton was the last one off the practice field Wednesday at Winter Park, suddenly in a new role and hearing rapping at his door.

On Tuesday, Burton received an uplifting text from his agent. With the Vikings waiving Bernard Berrian, the rookie receiver had a new window of opportunity, a promotion from the practice squad to the active roster.

That text, as it turns out, came nearly six months to the day after the call that brought Burton to Minnesota in the first place. In late April, he was the 236th player taken in the NFL draft, a seventh-rounder and the last of 10 rookies selected by the Vikings.

"That draft call was incredible," Burton said. "Because of the lockout, if you went undrafted, it would have been months of not knowing if you'd get an opportunity. So for me, that was such a highlight.

"But when I got the message Tuesday about getting called up, that was a great feeling in a different way. My first thought was, 'This is awesome.' After all the hard work, I'm finally getting an opportunity."

Suddenly, Burton might be on the verge of holding a contributing role for this team. When the Vikings play at Carolina on Sunday, he will make his first road trip and be on call in case of an emergency -- translation: if Percy Harvin's sore ribs worsen this week.

And that, in and of itself, provides a glimpse into the state of the Vikings receiving corps, a unit desperately searching for stability. The current cast includes:

• Harvin, who sat out practice again Wednesday and has yet to become a consistent factor;

• Michael Jenkins, who leads the team with 27 catches for 332 yards but hadn't had a 100-yard game in his career before Sunday. (Jenkins has played 110 games over eight seasons.);

• Devin Aromashodu and Greg Camarillo, two sixth-year journeymen who have combined for eight catches this season.

And now enter Burton, whose chance to step forward comes in big part because Berrian's performance and dedication were deemed unsatisfactory by coach Leslie Frazier.

The opening

Berrian's decline and his strained relationship with Frazier have been well documented over the past month. The veteran receiver was declared inactive twice in the past three games, never quite on the same page with his coach.

On Monday, during a one-on-one with Frazier, Berrian reiterated his desire to remain with the Vikings. But Frazier acknowledged Wednesday he was no longer able to accept Berrian's vows at face value.

So out the door he went.

"Bernard expressed to me he really wanted to be a part of our team and help our team to be successful," Frazier said. "But for what we're trying to do and where we are, it's just so important that every guy tries to adhere to the way we want to get it done. It's one thing to say what I'm going to do, it's another thing to do those things. And for us, we're trying to build something for the long term, not the short term."

Now comes this experiment with Burton, a challenge to see if the rookie has long-term value.

Doing what's asked

So who is this kid, this 6-1, 224-pound target out of Division II West Texas A&M?

Six months ago, draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. labeled Burton a sleeper and a value pick. His ESPN draft profile detailed above-average toughness but limitations in his speed and elusiveness.

Burton's scouting report on himself is rather brief.

"Mostly I'm a guy who tries to do my job whenever my number is called," he said Wednesday. "For me, the mindset is just 'Do what's asked.'"

Hey, when your passing attack ranks 29th in the NFL as the Vikings' does, there's little harm in spinning the wheel and seeing if the needle stops on a solution.

In the immediate future, Burton will get a chance.

"I'm ecstatic for him," quarterback Christian Ponder said. "He's a guy who really cares. And he's excited. I think he's really going to take advantage of the opportunity. You can tell. He's studying all the time, always in his playbook, always trying to get better."

Added Frazier: "We think he has some promise. And now we'll get a chance to take a look at him and see how he performs."

After a 1-6 start, the results of such trials could shape the future of the team.

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