Healthy Sidney Rice challenges Vikings

  • Article by: KENT YOUNGBLOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 3, 2012 - 9:14 AM

The receiver will be on his former team's radar when the Vikings face the Seahawks.

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Former Vikings wide receiver Sidney Rice leads Seattle with 28 catches after an injury-plagued 2011.

Photo: Tony Gutierrez, Associated Press - Ap

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He is, Leslie Frazier said, "looking like the Sidney we remember.''

The Vikings coach meant that as a compliment, as he was referring to the 2009 version of receiver Sidney Rice.

That version became Brett Favre's favorite, using his 6-4 frame to go up and get balls, and his speed to do so well downfield. Remember what that was like? The 2009 Sidney Rice caught 83 passes -- 59 for first downs -- for 1,312 yards and eight touchdowns for the Vikings.

That was the memory Frazier was evoking as the Vikings prepare to play at Seattle on Sunday. And Rice is two years into the five-year, $41 million contract ($18.5 million guaranteed) he signed with the Seahawks before last season. And he's starting to feel like himself again.

That means two things: One, the Vikings had better be ready to defend him. And two, Vikings fans will get a glimpse of what might have been had Rice stayed healthy and stayed in Minnesota.

"It's great, the best I've felt in a while, besides a couple little nagging injuries," Rice said in a conference call with Twin Cities media this week. "My body's feeling real well."

The Vikings' search for a deep-threat receiver has become more of a saga the past few seasons. Rice, a second-round draft pick in 2007, was wonderful in 2009 as Minnesota advanced to the NFC title game. But he had an injury-shortened season in 2010 when he opted for hip surgery that limited him to six games, 17 catches and two touchdowns in the Vikings' 6-10 season.

Indeed, injuries affected Rice's production in two of his four seasons with the team. Still, the Vikings valued him and wanted him back. But there was the injury history and, perhaps, some lingering irritation at the way he handled the timing of his hip surgery. Ultimately the Vikings didn't use a franchise tag or match Seattle's offer to keep him here.

Last season, that looked like a good move. Rice battled shoulder issues that required both to be operated on in the postseason. But what ended his season for good was sustaining two concussions in three weeks. He finished 2011 with 32 catches for 484 yards and two TDs in nine games.

"It was pretty tough," Rice said. "Last year was something I couldn't control. It was a team decision along with the NFL [to sit him after his concussions]. It wasn't the shoulder problems I had; I was playing through that.''

But this season, with Seattle dealing with a number of injuries at receiver, Rice has been healthy and productive, leading the Seahawks with 28 receptions for 367 yards and three scores.

"Same guy, same guy," Vikings safety Jamarca Sanford said of Rice. "He's back making plays. He is doing a great job of going up and getting the ball. And they are finding all kinds of ways to get him the ball."

Rice said he kept in contact with the Vikings as a free agent but ultimately chose Seattle in large part because of his familiarity with offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, who did the same job for the Vikings while Rice was here.

It's been a slow go so far for the Seahawks offense, with rookie quarterback Russell Wilson learning on the job. But Wilson -- and Seattle's passing game -- has shown signs of life. Wilson has exceeded 220 passing yards in three of his past four games, with six TDs. Rice has 16 receptions for 235 yards and two TDs in that time.

"He's playing really well," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. "It's the healthiest he's been. ... He's played big, and he's gotten deep, too. We're hoping we can keep using him and feeding him the football."

For Rice, playing against his old team for the first time in a regular-season game has come with a range of emotions. He said he looked at the Vikings' depth chart and counted nine former teammates among 11 defensive starters. He still keeps in touch with a number of Vikings players, including Sanford, Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin and Jasper Brinkley.

"I had a wonderful time when I was there," he said. "A lot of great teammates. I had a great four years. I enjoyed every minute of it, and it's going to be fun matching up with those guys."

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