When people analyzed the Vikings coming into training camp, there were a lot more questions than there were answers as it pertained to the depth on the team. The questions were plentiful. Who will start at safety? How will they replace two starting guards? Is there any depth at linebacker? But perhaps the most glaring question was how would the Vikings address the wide receiver position?
Last year, Percy Harvin caught 87 passes – more than twice as many as any other receiver on the team. The Vikings attempted to address the problem in the draft (taking Jarius Wright and since-injured Greg Childs) and free agency (signing Jerome Simpson, who is suspended the first three games of the season).
The Vikings have tried to piece together a collection of role players to provide a punch in the offense. Ideally, Harvin is a slot receiver who takes quick slants or bubble screens to get open in space where he can do the most damage. Michael Jenkins is a big intermediate target. Devin Aromashodu has become the deep downfield threat that forces safeties to roll his way to open the field for others.
Aromashodu has always been a big-play threat. In his first season with the Vikings, he averaged more than 18 yards per reception, but doesn't like to be pigeon-holed simply as a player who runs deep routes.
"I would like my role to be anything that helps improve this team," Aromashodu said. "I don't want to be one-dimensional or be just one thing – a guy who moves the chains or a third-down player or a just a deep threat. Whatever they ask me to do from a receiver perspective is what I'm going to do and I want them to have confidence in me that I can do a lot of different things."
One of the major differences in the 2012 Vikings that Aromashodu has noticed is the comfort level the offense has with Christian Ponder as its leader. Last season, because of the lockout, the Vikings brought in veteran Donovan McNabb, which was a failed experiment that was scrapped after just six games when the Vikings were 1-5 and woefully out of playoff contention.
With a rookie quarterback learning a new offense, the change at starting QB essentially re-started the same process and it came with mixed results. This year, however, after a full offseason working together in the same offense, the timing between Ponder and his receivers and the confidence they have in one another has made a giant step forward.
"It's improved a lot," Aromashodu said. "We spent a lot of time together this offseason and it helped not just me, but all of our receivers now that we're in the second year of this offense. Last year, (Ponder) didn't come in until we were six games into the season, so there was a transition there that needed time. When the OTAs began, we were able to hit the ground running this year and get the work that we needed in. That's how you get your timing with your receivers and a connection with each other and get everyone on the same page."
Whether he likes the definition or not, Aromashodu has become a valued role player, but one who isn't on the field consistently and, even when he is, will go long stretches without being targeted with a pass. For some receivers, it can be frustrating. It can lead to them getting upset and blowing up – see Terrell Owens and Randy Moss for verification. While Aromashodu wants to have as large a role in the offense as possible, he doesn't let a lack of usage from one game to the next impact his mindset or change the effort he puts out.
"That all depends on the person," Aromashodu said. "Some guys will get frustrated if they go a long time without getting the ball, but it really doesn't frustrate me. As long as we're moving the ball and being effective, that's all that matters – whether it's me making plays or not. The goal is to win however you can. I'll take a win over getting X amount of balls thrown my way. As long as we're executing the offense, everybody will touch the ball at some point. That's what we were able to do last week and we got the win."
The confidence Ponder has gained in Aromashodu was evident in last week's win over Jacksonville. When the Vikings needed to move the ball up the field with precious little time remaining, the big play came to Aromashodu. He was aware of the situation and said the play seemed to happen in slow motion, so much so that he feared the play may have taken too much time off the clock.
"It was a little strange because I had it in the back of my head that we only had 14 seconds to play and my route was pretty deep down the field," Aromashodu said. "When I saw it coming, my focus was on catching the pass, getting as many yards as I could and getting down so we could preserve as much time as possible and decide from there what we had time left to do. In the end, it all worked out. We had enough time left to get one more play off and it picked up enough yards for us to get into field goal range and win the game."
Aromashodu admitted that, last year, those were the types of games the Vikings lost. They would have leads in the second half and find ways to squander them and not maintain them. He hopes that the Jacksonville game might help the Vikings turn the corner in their quest to return to NFL respectability. It was only one game, but half the league started off 0-1. For the first time in three years, the Vikings weren't one of them.
With Simpson expected back after the San Francisco game Sept. 23, Aromashodu's role may be reduced somewhat, since Simpson's calling card is the deep pass. But Aromashodu has been earning the confidence of Ponder and the coaching staff. As he sees it, the same negative momentum that haunted the Vikings last year is showing signs of reversing itself and the NFL is known for teams making a fast rise from the ashes – something he wants to be a part of.
"This is a game of momentum," Aromashodu said. "Last year, we never really got any traction and were always trying to play catch-up after we got off to a bad start. This is a different team and we're looking to make the jump to the next level. Until Jerome comes back, we're all trying to pick up our game and get our confidence with Christian going even higher. When he comes back, that will just be another weapon for us to use. We believe we can win a lot of games because we have the people here to get it done and we're looking to get stronger as the year goes on and keep on winning."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Aromashodu gaining confidence with reps
Viking Update Top Stories
VIDEO: Turner talks run game, pass proMinnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner discusses the issues in the running game, pass protection and more.
Viking Update10:47 AM
McKinnon out of boot, status still uncertainJerick McKinnon couldn’t say whether he would be able to play on Monday night, but the sprained ankle is healing.
Viking Update10:24 AM
VIDEO: Priefer breaks down mistakes in PhillyMinnesota Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Priefer breaks down the breakdowns in Philadelphia and looks forward to Chicago.
Viking Update10:18 AM
Hard-core stats: Vikings vs. BearsMost of the stats point the Minnesota Vikings’ way, but where are the Bears and Vikings most vulnerable? We break it down from every angle.
Viking Update7:26 AM