Koren Robinson established himself as an elite return man last season with the Vikings, averaging 26 yards on 47 kick returns and scoring a touchdown. His performance in that role earned him a spot on the NFC Pro Bowl roster.
But that isn’t the reason the Vikings gave him a three-year contract in March that includes $5.5 million in guaranteed bonuses. The expectation of new coach Brad Childress is that Robinson will earn his money as the team’s No. 1 receiver.
That would be quite a difference from last season, when Robinson was simply trying to re-establish himself after problems with alcohol had derailed his career and led the Seattle Seahawks to release him. Robinson caught 22 passes and had only one touchdown reception.
So are Robinson’s days returning kicks finished? He is hoping that isn’t the case.
“I would like to,” return kicks, Robinson said. “Coach Childress told everybody, ‘You’re going to be on at least one special team.’ If I’m going to be on special teams, I know it’s going to be on kickoff returns. But I don’t know if I’m going to be the starter or not. I would love to be, but at the same time I know that’s going to be hard with starting and doing all the plays, too. I’m not sure, but I guess I can be a special situation guy.”
Paul Ferraro, the Vikings’ new special teams coordinator, indicated that Robinson could be used in more than just special situations.
“As far as I have been told, right now Koren Robinson is our kickoff returner,” Ferraro said. “Now, we’re going to have some other people back there because certainly in the course of the game he might need a blow. But he’s looking forward to being back there. I mean he was in the Pro Bowl as a kick returner, and we’re excited about still having him in that position.”
As for punt returns, the leading candidate for that job is backup running back Mewelde Moore. He averaged 11.7 yards on 21 punt returns with one touchdown last season.
Childress said the Vikings plan to have 14 organized team activities that will wrap up with a voluntary mini-camp at the end of June.
Childress has been impressed by what he has seen from veteran quarterback Brad Johnson off the field as well as on. “He has such a dictionary, if you will, of offense in his head,” Childress said. “He’s got his own notebooks. I’ve seen his notebooks. He’s made tape of plays that he likes. Some of the ones we’re able to adapt, some of the ones we already have in the offense and some of them I’ll probably have to tell him, you know what, you need to run that when you get your own football team.”
Cornerback Ronyell Whitaker, whom the Vikings signed as a free agent, has been impressive playing for Rhein in NFL Europe. He has returned two of his four interceptions for touchdowns. “I get reports on him and I watch games, and I guess he’s lighting it up,” said defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin, who coached Whitaker with Tampa Bay. “He’s doing well, but that doesn’t surprise me; I’ve known that young man for a long time. He has great football character. He has ridiculous work habits. He’s going to come in here fighting. He’s not going to take a back seat to anyone.”
Tight end Jermaine Wiggins, who was listed at 6-2, 260 pounds last season, was noticeably thinner at the Vikings’ second mini-camp this month. Childress had told a group of players he wanted them to lose weight after the first mini-camp. “That’s nobody’s business but ours,” Childress said when asked who lost the most weight.
Rookie free-agent receiver Kyle Smith is the son of San Diego Chargers general manager A.J. Smith. Kyle, who caught 101 passes for 1,536 yards and 10 touchdowns at Youngstown State, said he picked the Vikings over Tampa Bay. San Diego was not an option.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “I love playing the game. I’ve been a part of different situations all through my career. I’ve been traded, I’ve been a free agent. I’ve dealt with different contracts and different situations and over time those things just take care of themselves. Usually that’s just the way I play things out.” — Vikings quarterback Brad Johnson, asked if he was happy about the four-year, $6 million contract he signed last off-season to be Daunte Culpepper’s backup.