The Vikings entered the regular season with five new starters on offense, but one of those new starting five is likely to be most visible catching passes down the middle of the field.
Part-time starter Jake Reed as a third wide receiver, running back Michael Bennett, left tackle Brad Badger and right tackle Chris Liwienski were not in starting roles with the Vikings last year. And neither was tight end Byron Chamberlain.
That changed after a discussion with Vikings head coach Dennis Green this offseason. You might say Chamberlain was a Mile High after that talk. It took only a few words from Green to convince Chamberlain that Minnesota and its talented offense were the right fit for the 6-foot-1, 242-pound tight end.
Chamberlain had been given a taste of significant playing time in Denver but was never completely handed the reigns to the Broncos' tight end spot. When Shannon Sharpe left Colorado for Baltimore before the 2000 season, Chamberlain thought he had his chance, but Broncos coach Mike Shanahan pulled back on the leather and went with a tight end-by-committee approach.
By the time Chamberlain left the Broncos, he had played 81 games in six years, but he was denied the opportunity to start in each of those games. So when Green told Chamberlain that he was a targeted man in the Vikings offense, there was little else to say.
He went from John Elway (from 1995 to 1998) to Daunte Culpepper. "They both have very live arms, I'll say that," Chamberlain said when asked to compare Elway and Culpepper. "Daunte's got to play a few more years and we've got to get him on that podium holding a Lombardi Trophy a couple of times."
But the similarities between the Broncos' championship teams and the Vikings' strong NFC run the last three years doesn't end there, according to Chamberlain.
"The thing is, there is talent all around you in both locker rooms," he said. "You've got guys like Randy Moss, who is probably the best receiver in the game. When I looked around at Denver, before he got hurt a guy like Terrell (Davis) was probably the best player in the game. They are both talented squads and there is not really much that separates the two."
In fact, the two teams nearly met up for Super Bowl XXXIII, but the heartache that was the 1998 season-ender for those in purple kept the Vikings from meeting Denver in Miami in January 1999.
Was Chamberlain surprised when his Broncos didn't meet up with the Vikings in the Super Bowl after the 1998 season? "Very," he said. "We were all sitting around in the locker room. We saw them (the Falcons) win and we kind of said, ‘Hey, we've won the Super Bowl already.' … We were expecting to see Minnesota in 1998."
Now his focus is on getting Minnesota to Super Bowl XXXVI. "I want to win a championship. I've won two already and I want to win one here," he said.
Chamberlain could be an integral part in trying to turn that goal into reality. Despite being denied the opportunity to start the last two seasons in Denver, Chamberlain has remained a productive receiver. He caught 32 passes in 1999 and 22 in 2000 despite being part of a three-man committee, and each of those years he averaged more than 12 yards per catch.
At 30 years old, he should be in the prime of his career and is looking forward to making good on his newfound starting role. From putting in extra time this summer to familiarize himself with Culpepper and vice versa, to taking stock of the Vikings' preseason run, Chamberlain is looking forward, not backwards, but realizes he can draw from his experience in Denver.
"I'm comfortable because it is so similar to the offense I was in for six years. I was here all summer working with Daunte and working with the other wideouts. I'm very comfortable," he said.
"We've definitely got to make fewer mistakes. We have to find a way that we can come out and start fast. When you get in the regular-season games, you can't struggle early. You've got to go out and set the tempo, because if you get down one or two touchdowns it could be a long day.
"I don't really put a lot of stock in preseason records, but the big thing is you want to play well and you want to make sure you are clicking on all cylinders going into the regular season. But then again, when I go on the field, I play to win. When I don't win, I'm mad."
That was the case even after his career day in his first game with the Vikings. Carolina committed to stopping Moss by playing a two-deep defensive concept, which limited Moss to one catch.
"Have I ever been shut down? I don't get shut down," Moss said, then was asked about getting only one reception. "I don't know what that means, but that don't mean I got shut down. They put two on me, and from a matchup standpoint that means that it is 9-on-10. You've got to find ways to make it happen."
Chamberlain was one of the few offensive players making "it happen." But, true to his word, the tight end was mad because the team didn't win, despite being the recipient of almost one-third of Culpepper's passes, catching seven passes for 83 yards for an 11.9-yard average.
"Myself, I dropped two passes," he said after the season-opening loss.
"They (the Panthers) didn't do anything that they didn't do on film. They played a basic two-deep, which everybody plays. It's just a base defense that everybody puts on the first day of training camp. We just didn't execute."
Chamberlain was one of the few bright spots in that game, and the Vikings hope his production continues. The team has been missing a solid receiving threat from the tight end position for some time. Andrew Glover caught 32 and 35 passes in 1997 and 1998, respectively, and Andrew Jordan (back with the team again for 2001) caught 35 in 1994. But not since Steve Jordan caught 56 passes in 1993 have the Vikings had a singular tight end who can stretch the middle of the field and average 40-plus receptions over a span of years.
Chamberlain hopes to change that and puts himself in the category of being a threat defenses have to worry about.
"What I bring to the table is just going to make this offense that much more potent," he said.
His presence has already been felt.
Chamberlain Sees Possibilities
Viking Update Top Stories
VIDEO: Zimmer on final preps for EaglesMinnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer discusses some key players for Philadelphia, his defense and if Jake Long could play.
Viking Update12:02 PM
Vikings have 3 receivers on injury reportThe Minnesota Vikings could be getting Stefon Diggs back in the lineup, but he is among three receivers on their injury report.
Viking Update11:37 AM
Notebook: Walsh ‘past the bad things?’The Minnesota Vikings are preparing to play “quite possibly the best special teams unit across the board that we've faced so far this year.” Plus, the Vikings are doing much better…
Viking Update8:49 AM
Hard-core stats: Vikings at EaglesThe Minnesota Vikings will look to exploit some of the weaknesses the Eagles have shown lately, including one strength for the Vikings and one weakness. We go deep into where the…
Viking Update5:04 AM