Vikings-Ravens Personnel Preview

Four months ago, Koren Robinson didn't even think he'd be in the NFL, much less the Pro Bowl. Meanwhile, the Ravens' top-notch receiver, tight end Todd Heap, is also coming on strong. Get those stories and notes from both camps in preparation for Sunday night's game.

VIKINGS

The Vikings were one of the few NFL teams willing to take a chance on Koren Robinson last summer when the receiver was going through 28 days of alcohol rehabilitation in South Carolina.

That won't be the case this off-season if Robinson is allowed to hit the free-agent market again. The veteran's career resurgence continued this week when he was named the kick return specialist for the NFC Pro Bowl team.

Free safety Darren Sharper, another free-agent pickup by the Vikings, also was named to the NFC roster.

Robinson leads the conference and is third in the NFL with an average of 26.6 yards per return. Not too bad considering this is the first time in his he has returned kicks in the NFL. The Seattle Seahawks, who parted company with Robinson last spring after numerous off-the-field incidents, never used him in that role.

Robinson joined the Vikings in early September after completing his program. Despite not playing in the first two games of the season and having a limited role early on, he also has caught 20 passes for 339 yards and a touchdown.

"It's a funny feeling right now, looking back on everything I've been through," Robinson said. "Being in the rehab facility in August and thinking that I would never play football again because I thought I had burned all of my bridges as far as an organization in the NFL. I didn't think I would get another chance. I got another chance, I've been able to play and be productive."

Coach Mike Tice was a big reason Robinson landed with the Vikings. Tice called Robinson while he was going through rehab, paving the way for the receiver to come to Minnesota.

"I'm proud of him and the guys blocking for him and (special teams coordinator) Rusty Tillman for pressing the issue with me to pull the trigger to put him in the game," Tice said. "So there are a lot of guys that I'm proud of, but mostly you have to be proud of the guys that are out there blocking and the guys that are running the football, Koren Robinson. They got it done."

NOTES

  • SS Corey Chavous is listed as probable on the injury report despite missing practice Wednesday and Thursday because of a high right ankle sprain. Chavous, injured early last Sunday against Pittsburgh, might have to share time with backup Will Hunter at Baltimore.

  • LB Keith Newman has been unable to begin running because of a second-degree sprain of the posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and could be finished for the season. Newman was injured Dec. 11 against St. Louis.

  • RT Marcus Johnson was unable to practice for a second consecutive day because of a sprained right ankle and is listed as doubtful for Sunday. Veteran Mike Rosenthal will start in his place.

  • C Melvin Fowler has been fitted with a brace to wear on his sprained left ankle. He did not do any work in team drills in Thursday's practice and is listed as questionable on the injury report. Cory Withrow will start if Fowler can't play.

  • TE Jermaine Wiggins did some work in Thursday's practice despite a sprained left ankle. He is listed as questionable.

  • LB Heath Farwell (knee) has been fitted with a new brace and will play Sunday on special teams.


    RAVENS

    Knowing how tight end Todd Heap plays -- as well as knowing him personally -- gives Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller a comfort zone in games.

    The two are close friends and even room together during training camp, which has built ties that carry into games.

    In the six games since Boller returned from his toe injury, Heap has led the Ravens in catches twice and tied for the lead two other times. Half of Boller's eight touchdowns have gone to Heap this season, including two of his four scoring throws in the red zone.

    "The more comfortable you are with somebody, the more you understand where he's going to be and what kind of route he's going to run," Boller said.

    Heap, who was snubbed for the Pro Bowl, is second among NFL tight ends with 69 catches -- which is already a career high with two games left -- and ranks third with 836 yards and six touchdowns.

    The impressive part of Heap's season is that he is still not fully recovered from two off-season surgeries.

    His shoulder is not at full strength, and doctors told him that it takes over a year for him to regain the same mobility in his ankle "if you ever get it back."

    But Heap remains the most consistent big-play threat for the Ravens. He has produced a catch of 20 or more yards in 10 of 14 games this season.

    "With the kind of season he's had -- off a rehab off-season -- we talked about it the other day how excited he is to get a full off-season of just getting ready for the (next) season," coach Brian Billick said.

    Despite the two surgeries this off-season, Heap has never shown any hesitation in his play. In his trademark style, he has leapt, dove and stretched out for passes like he's always done in the past.

    Some have speculated that Heap's play leaves his body unprotected, which could take a toll on him later and perhaps shorten his career.

    "I don't know how else to play," said Heap, who has become the franchise's all-time leader in catches (237) and receiving yards (2,841) in just 64 games. "It's not in me to watch a ball go by or not make an attempt at it. If there's any way to get the job done, that's what I'm going to try to do. Whether the ball is high or low, you might as well try to get it, because you're going to get hit."

    NOTES

  • TE Daniel Wilcox was downgraded to doubtful with an ankle injury and likely won't play. He will be replaced as the No. 2 tight end by Darnell Dinkins.

  • TE Darnell Dinkins was upgraded to probable with an ankle injury. He will replace Daniel Wilcox as the No. 2 tight end for the Ravens.

  • PR/KR B.J. Sams is expected to be a game-time decision and might not play with an injured knee. Running back Chester Taylor would return kickoffs and receiver Mark Clayton would run back punts in that case.

  • C Mike Flynn was added to the injury report with an ankle injury and did not practice. He is expected to start at center.

  • TE Todd Heap has caught half of quarterback Kyle Boller's touchdown passes this season. He also has produced at least one 20-plus yard catch in 10 of 14 games.

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