As a reward for his 2001 season, Byron Chamberlain went to the Pro Bowl. Since, the Vikings haven't had a tight end that could consistently go over the middle and exploit matchup problems … until now, Jermaine Wiggins hopes.
Already, after only one week of practices with most of the full team, Wiggins is feeling comfortable in the Vikings' offense.
"I'm fitting in good here and getting a feel for the offense. If I had to play on Sunday, I could play on Sunday — that's how comfortable I am in this offense," Wiggins said. "The coaches have done a great job with getting me up to date with everything."
Wiggins signed a one-year deal in March after turning down a three-year offer from Carolina, where the defending NFC North champions had a conservative offense. The Vikings aren't the conference's defending champion, but they do possess last year's No. 1 offense.
"It's more of a balanced attack (in Minnesota), where in Carolina we were more run-oriented," Wiggins said. "But it's definitely something I love and can adjust to with no problem.
"There were a couple teams showing interest, but I felt like this would be the best situation for me because of the offense, as far as getting an opportunity to get the ball and show the rest of the league what I've been able to do since I got into the league — make plays, and I feel I've been given the opportunity here. (At Carolina) I was asked to do my job and that was fine, but I feel I'll be given a realistic chance to show the rest of the league what they already know I can do."
Wiggins has been in the league four years, but his best regular season was his rookie year, when he split time between the New York Jets and New England Patriots. He had 18 catches for 207 yards, an 11.5-yard average. He hasn't duplicated any of those numbers since, but that hasn't limited his expectations.
"My expectations are the sky is the limit. I feel like I can catch 50, 60 balls. I feel like I've proven it," he said. "When we went to the playoffs in 2001, in a three-game stretch, I caught 14 balls. I don't have those eye-popping numbers, but at the same time I think you'll see that I can be consistent, whether I'm asked to catch one ball or I'm asked to catch 10 balls."
While he has only caught 50 passes in four years as a pro, his expectations may not be out of line. In Chamberlain's first year in the Vikings offense, he caught 57 passes for 666 yards and went to the Pro Bowl.
Head coach Mike Tice, a former NFL tight end, isn't predicting much this year, but he likes what Wiggins has to offer.
"He has a knack of getting separation on his routes," Tice said of Wiggins. "A good blocker — not a great blocker but a good blocker — and I think he's going to add something to our passing game. There are some matchups we can get when we stay two tight ends that we haven't been able to get here before against some teams with weaker linebackers. I think it's going to help us in the passing game on first down."
Many fans don't believe Jim Kleinsasser, re-signed for five years this offseason, is much of a deep passing threat, but Tice said the coaches just haven't asked him to go over the middle much. That assignment should go mainly to Wiggins, who was getting good reviews in minicamp last weekend.
Ultimately, the Vikings have may receivers looking to exploit matchup problems because they fully expect teams to concentrate heavily on Randy Moss and Michael Bennett, and maybe to a lesser degree — at least initially — on Marcus Robinson.
"When you've got guys like that, the entire defense is going to have to have guys over the top, so what that does is opens up the middle," Wiggins said. "Along with Jimmy, there's a lot of real estate there."
Vikings Offer Wiggins Big Opportunity
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