Berrian, TEs Offer Best Options to Improve

Visanthe Shiancoe (Tom Olmscheid/AP)

The Vikings' passing offense finished 2007 ranked 28th in the league, a major reason the team signed free-agent receiver Bernard Berrian. Between Berrian and the improvement of the tight ends, the Vikings are hoping their passing game progresses. See what head coach Brad Childress had to say about those factors.

While most NFL analysts and Vikings observers point to the improvement of quarterback Tarvaris Jackson as the biggest way the team can advance on offense in 2008, the receiving weapons around him need to expand their production as well.

Bobby Wade led Minnesota's receiving corps with 54 catches, but two other teams – Jacksonville and San Francisco – had a pass-catching leader with fewer than 54 receptions last year. Wade's total tied for 52nd in the league, and the Vikings passing offense finished ranked 28th in the league with 2,938 yards, further proof that their passing options need to improve in 2008.

The most obvious way that can change is with the Vikings' premier free-agent signing from 2008 – wide receiver Bernard Berrian – stepping up and becoming the No. 1 threat the front office envisioned when it tagged him as their top offensive target this offseason.

"You always want somebody that has the ability to stretch the defense. He's played well against us. He knows that division. One of the adages that we always went with out in Philadelphia is that if you can take somebody from somebody else's (team in the) division, make them weaker, make you stronger, there is no downside to that," Childress said of signing Berrian away from the Chicago Bears, who were interested in keeping him but couldn't match the Vikings' $42 million commitment to him. "He's a good football player, a good person. His mom and dad are both Army people. He's wired the right way. He's tough. He's like a piece of grizzle. About the toughest thing he's going to have, buy-in factor, is how our wide receivers block down the field when our running backs break the line of scrimmage."

In fact, after signing with the Vikings, Berrian mentioned that his blocking needs to improve.

"I'm not the greatest blocker, I'm not going to lie, but that's what practice is for," Berrian said after he signed with the Vikings. "We're going to go out there and we're going to work at it and I'm going to work at it to get better. I'm definitely willing to throw my body in there and block. I'm not the type of receiver that is going to just sit there and (give) just lackluster effort. I'm definitely going to go out there and give my full effort."

But one of the biggest adjustments for Berrian might be the change in scheme. He is coming to a West Coast offense that requires a lot of reads by the wide receivers on how to adjust their routes. Last year's Vikings receivers often talked about the flexibility the offense afforded them but that it takes time to become accustomed to how to read and react properly and quickly.

Childress indicated he thinks Berrian is up to the challenge.

"He's a bright-eyed kid. I spent a long time talking to the Fresno coaches about him coming out. … He's a quick-read guy. There will be some little nuances … but that's what all these offseason throwing sessions are for," Childress said at last week's owners meetings. "He's been together with Tarvaris already. He's not a guy that's sitting out in Fresno right now."

While the addition of Berrian is viewed as the most significant way the Vikings' passing game can improve, progress can also be made from within, and the tight end position – without a free-agent signing made there – should feature a prime target in the West Coast offense.

Last year, the Vikings committed to Visanthe Shiancoe on the free-agent market, but he struggled to adjust to a new offense and a larger role after spending time mainly as a blocking tight end in the New York Giants offense during his first four years in the league.

"We're hoping that Visanthe Shiancoe makes a move, without a doubt, and I think he'll be better in his second year in the system," Childress said. "The tight end in our offense has got to be able to stretch the middle of the field. And really a quarterback, as he evolves in this – young quarterbacks love to throw the ball outside and away, whether it's short, deep or long – but you have to be able to throw the football between the tackles where all those bodies are. A tight end is the best guy in there to get a mismatch with a safety."

At 27 receptions for 323 yards, Shiancoe averaged less than two receptions per game.

The Vikings eventually gave second-year tight end prospect Garrett Mills a chance to show what he had learned during his first 15 games on the inactive list when he played in the season finale at Denver. He produced two catches for 26 yards and gave the coaches reason to believe he could be a viable receiving option for 2008 as well.

"Garrett Mills showed up in our Denver game last year. Missed all of our training camp, but we saw signs in him even though he was a little bit of a tweener – everybody wants to use the term H-back – he's got a natural wiggle and a natural feel for the pass game," Childress said. "He'll be right in the mix as well as Braden Jones, the kid we took from Southern Illinois who broke his hand last year."

So while Jackson's progress in the offense will be monitored closely, the receiving options around him will have changed a bit, and the Vikings are hoping it is a change for the better – one that gets their passing offense ascending up the rankings.

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