Receiver Rundown: From Moss To Most Improved

The Vikings are looking primed for another huge year on offense, and a better receiver corps is another reason to anticipate big things in 2004. Find out what offensive coordinator Scott Linehan thinks of Randy Moss' plantar fasciitis and who he names as the offense's most improved players.

Top-flight free agents get most of the NFL attention in the spring camps and during the beginning stages of the season.

Marcus Robinson is that man on offense for the Vikings this year. After trying to replace Cris Carter with Derrick Alexander and D'Wayne Bates, Robinson offers the best hope of adequately filling that No. 2 spot.

But above and below Robinson on the depth chart, other receivers were also getting noticed the past few months. No one gets the attention more than Randy Moss, who had a career-best 111 catches for a career-best 1,632 yards in 2003.

When Moss was still gimpy in May from plantar fasciitis, the story took hold like wildfire burning much hotter than the pain in his foot.

For fans that didn't get a chance to actually see Moss practice and judge for themselves, the stories seemed much more inflammatory than the injury. Moss was still running and still making catches, but offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said the pain was bothering Moss in May much more than it did in the extended June camps.

"Early it was bothering him. Just running certain routes you could tell," Linehan said. "But I think as he worked himself through it, not necessarily pacing himself but not taking every snap, he's learning that it's OK to give the young guys a snap with the ones (first team). I think he's managing his tolerance for that. That's a pain tolerance deal.

"Since we got back for June development camp, he's looked much better. I don't even foresee it being a problem. I think he's learning how to take care of it so it won't be chronic."

During the three weeks of practices last month, the injury wasn't even noticeable.

Should Moss or Robinson be sidelined, the Vikings are feeling better about their young but talented group of receivers behind the starters — including Nate Burleson, Kelly Campbell and Keenan Howry.

Linehan listed two of them as the most improved players on offense.

"A couple guys that probably share that (title) are Nate Burleson and Keenan Howry," Linehan said. "Those are two guys that have shown me from where they were last year to where they are right now, they're the most improved."

Burleson said he feels far more comfortable at this point in the year than he did last year as a rookie. It has shown. He looked much more natural during May and June practices and seemed more athletic in his relaxed state.

Last year, Burleson had 29 catches and Campbell had 25. Howry had only two. Despite Burleson having a more proven player in front of him — Robinson versus Bates — Burleson should have a better year given equal or more opportunities than in 2003. With Burleson's improvement, Campbell may not have as many opportunities, although they are used quite differently — Campbell for deep speed and Burleson as more of a possession receiver. And it sounds like Howry could even get some more opportunities than the limited number of times he was inserted into the offense last season.

In all, the receiver corps appears to be more talented, more experienced — even if some are concerned with Robinson's past injuries — and deeper in 2004. With the rest of the league's No. 1 offense returning, that could spell trouble for opposing defensive coordinators.

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