WR coach Stewart has interesting season ahead

WR coach George Stewart has no receiver under his charge that has really proved himself as a Viking, although there are a few intriguing storylines to follow. There is the former Packer making the transition to Minnesota, the former quarterback making the transition to receiver and perhaps the most athletically gifted also being the one with a lot to learn.

Perhaps no position coach has so many players with something to prove as George Stewart, keeper of the Minnesota Vikings' receivers.

There is Greg Jennings, the seven-year veteran of the Green Bay Packers who moved from the only NFL team he had every played for to their division rival after the Packers weren't willing to match the Vikings' five-year, $45 million contract offer. Jennings is hoping to continue his role as on-field producer of consistency as a receiver while offering a mentorship role to the more inexperienced receivers in the Vikings' corral.

Jennings has produced 900 yards or more receiving in five of his last six years, including three seasons with at least 1,100 yards (the Vikings haven't had a 1,000-yard since Sidney Rice's 1,312 in 2009).

Jerome Simpson is loaded with potential because of his quickness, but in five NFL seasons he has combined for only 1,278 yards. He signed his second straight one-year contract with the Vikings, hoping to rekindle some of the production from his 2011 season, when he had 725 yards with the Cincinnati Bengals – more than half of his career output.

After a season derailed by a three-game suspension to start and a nerve injury shortly after his return, Simpson has plenty to prove.

"He's completely healthy now and we're looking for some big things out of Jerome Simpson," Stewart said.

But after Jennings and Simpson, the Vikings have a void of experience in the receiving corps.

No player personifies that more than rookie Cordarrelle Patterson. After two years of junior college, he played only one season at Tennessee before tantalizing scouts with his combination of size, speed and hands. Still, most of the evaluations on Patterson include the descriptor "raw" because of his lack of experience with high-end competition and top-shelf coaching.

"He's learning football as expected. He's not a guy that you look at that's behind on things," Stewart said. "He's sharp. He always comes and talks through things. Jarius Wright does a good job of staying with him. He always comes to my ear and asks questions. He's very inquisitive, which I like. He's picking up things extremely well."

The Vikings see the obvious talent in Patterson, but they are attempting to temper expectations.

"I just hope he has an opportunity to help us in some form. That's the reason we drafted him, for special teams or receiver. But to draft a guy in the first round, obviously you want him to come into your team and help you," Stewart said. "We've had great success with our first-round picks the last few years. Rick Spielman has done that in terms of drafting guys. And we just expect the same thing out of Cordarrelle."

Patterson, Jennings and Simpson will all be on the 53-man roster when the final mass cuts are made heading into the regular season. Joe Webb's status isn't as assured.

After three seasons – and three regular-season starts – as a backup quarterback, Webb is making the transition back to receiver, the other position he played in college. He is every bit as raw in the route-running department as Patterson and doesn't have the rookie's quickness, but the Vikings are committed to giving him time to develop.

Stewart said the plan is to keep Webb at receiver through training camp and make a decision on his future then. Because of the position transition, Webb will be evaluated differently, the receivers coach admitted.

"It would be unfair to evaluate him as a receiver like I evaluate the rest of them because they've been receivers all their lives. Joe's been a quarterback. It's kind of like me trying to be a chef. It's not going to work. I've got to burn some stuff up," Stewart said. "But Joe's going to help us. … We will evaluate him differently until he has a chance to get his feet underneath him and has a chance to get better as a receiver."

Like Patterson, Webb is being given some opportunities to be a kick returner as well, but that seems like longer odds than him making the roster as a receiver. But there could be an advantage Webb has making the transition to receiver as a former quarterback.

"He knows everything from the quarterback standpoint. It's just being a receiver; getting off the football, using his hands, running the route, getting the depth, getting out of a break. Those things are things, but in terms of catching the football, I know that was the thing, ‘He can't catch.' Joe can catch the football," Stewart said. "It's just that the other things have to rhythm up with catching and anytime you make a position move like that, there's going to be some rough edges and it's my job to kind of smooth them out. But Joe's is an extremely hard worker, so I'm quite sure he'll overcome all the obstacles."

Perhaps no position coach will have as interesting a year as Stewart. Nearly every receiver on the roster has something to prove, whether it's switching teams, switching positions or trying to turn a plethora of potential into production.


Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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