As their game with the New Orleans Saints approaches, the question stays the same, but the name has changed, which is unfortunate news for the Vikings. For the first time since the Vikings reported to training camp, receivers are answering questions about how they will fare without Nate Burleson rather than Randy Moss.
Burleson, who has a sprained left knee and visited Mayo Clinic in Rochester for a second opinion earlier this week, is listed as doubtful on the team's injury report. He is not expected to play Sunday.
Even though he has just six catches for 93 yards and no touchdowns in the Vikings' first two games, Burleson is the Vikings' No. 1 receiver. Now that he almost certainly is out for Sunday's game, it appears Travis Taylor will move up the ladder, with Marcus Robinson being the No. 2 receiver, rookie Troy Williamson three and Koren Robinson fourth.
Even though the personnel have changed, Vikings receivers say the depth at their position will be revealed — not exposed — Sunday against the Saints.
"We have to do the same thing we've been doing," Marcus Robinson said. "We just go out there and make as many plays as you can when you get your opportunity."
Quarterback Daunte Culpepper was asked who his top receiver was now that Burleson is out.
"Well I think Travis is the most consistent receiver we have right now," Culpepper said of Taylor, who has 10 catches for 113 yards this season. "He doesn't bring us the deep threat that maybe some of the other guys do, and for that fact neither does Nate. Nate is more of a run-after-the-catch guy. But I think the guy that has been very consistent since we got him and has been a great acquisition has been Travis Taylor."
It has only been two games — two in which the Vikings offense struggled miserably — but next to Taylor's 10 receptions and Burleson's six catches, Marcus Robinson has just five, and Williamson has two.
Koren Robinson will play his first game as a Vikings receiver Sunday, although head coach Mike Tice wouldn't say how much playing time he will get. "We'll see how the week progresses and how much he can pick up," Tice said Wednesday.
Koren's teammates expect big plays in his debut with the Vikings. " He is definitely somebody that we are looking forward to getting out there and making some plays because he is a great playmaker," quarterback Daunte Culpepper said.
Koren, whose alcohol problems have been well chronicled, has had one 1,000-yard season in his five-year NFL career. In 2002, he had 78 catches for 1,240 yards and five touchdowns. He had 65 catches for 896 yards and four touchdowns in 2003, then dipped to 31 catches for 495 yards last season. Marcus Robinson has been impressed with Koren (who wears No. 18, by the way) since his arrival at Winter Park earlier this month.
"Koren's going to come in and make the plays he needs to make to help the team win," Marcus Robinson said. "He'll give his best effort. That's why I think he'll be a guy who can come in and help us."
After not catching any passes in the season opener, Williamson showed signs of his potential last week at Cincinnati when he made two catches for 44 yards. Williamson, the team's No. 1 draft pick last April, is the speediest receiver and could play a major role against the Saints.
Ideally, Vikings coaches hoped to slowly implement Williamson into the game plan as the season progressed, in the same fashion the team did with Moss in 1998. But with Burleson out and Koren Robinson's playing time uncertain, Williamson will be pressed into more playing time than originally expected.
"With Nate being out we don't have much choice whether we wanted to bring (Williamson) along slowly," Tice said. "We gave him a lot of plays the other day. He had a lot of plays and played OK. We don't have any choice now."
Williamson says he is approaching the game in the same manner he did the first two.
"As far as me, I just have to go in and be ready to play," Williamson said. "I feel like I'm ready for it. If there's a situation where I have to go in, I'll be ready to go. It's no big deal."
Of course, there is more to the passing game than just wide receivers. Tight ends Jermaine Wiggins and Jim Kleinsasser have combined for 12 catches. Michael Bennett, Mewelde Moore and Moe Williams have combined for eight catches.
With Burleson out and Culpepper coming off two miserable games it wouldn't be surprising to see the Vikings' passing game center around the backs and tight ends.
"I like Travis Taylor, I love Marcus Robinson. I like (Michael) Bennett and Mewelde (Moore) coming out of the backfield, Moe Williams coming out of the backfield," Culpepper said. "Jermaine Wiggins is a huge key to this offense and Jimmy Kleinsasser is a guy that can catch the ball very well and run very well. I still feel very confident in our passing game."
Culpepper is confident. Saints coach Jim Haslett says he is fearful.
"They're missing Randy Moss, and that was a big part of their offense last year," Haslett said. "But when you look at the receiving corps, they are — as a group — as good as you can find in the league. They are all big and they can run."
Vikings Express Confidence In Diminished WR Corps
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