The 'Other' WR Alternatives

With all the hype surrounding the Vikings' interest in soon-to-be free agent wide receiver Derrick Alexander, what happens if the team isn't able to sign him or another veteran WR? From the looks at camp, the alternatives are pretty good and one is progressing quickly.

Friday marked the final day of the Vikings' first developmental camp of 2002. The biggest differences between minicamps and developmental camps are that developmental camps are "voluntary" and there are some restrictions on the amount of protective gear that can be worn. Despite being voluntary, the Vikings had their best attendance in history, with only a handful of players among those not in NFL Europe missing.

Saturday marks the start of the next phase of free agency — the June 1 cuts around the league, when teams get some salary cap relief in releasing higher paid players by being able to spread out their remaining signing bonus cap money over two years. Any team that releases players prior to June 1 would have that full cap presence felt in one year.

And so the speculation about the Vikings' wide receiver prospects is about to either end quickly with a signing or move into full force in anticipation of a signing. Derrick Alexander of the Chiefs will be released, Keenan McCardell of the Jaguars is all but gone and Antonio Freeman of the Packers could be leaping away from Lambeau. Those are the Vikings' main targets for free agent wide receivers, but Alexander is the lead candidate.

Why? Well, first, the bidding on McCardell is expected to be more intense than on Alexander. Second, the Vikings simply like Alexander's speed more than McCardell's.

Despite rumblings of the Vikings already having negotiated general terms of a contract with Alexander, it is not a sure thing. Once he fully tests the waters starting tomorrow, he could sign with another team.

So what if the Vikings don't get a veteran wide receiver who is a virtual lock to play opposite Randy Moss? VU asked head coach Mike Tice that this week, and despite a very strong showing from second-year receiver Cedric James in minicamp and this week's developmental camp, he wasn't the first name mentioned by Tice.

"I think D'Wayne Bates looks the part. I'm really impressed with Kelly Campbell. And I'll tell you, Cedric James has done nothing but good things since we started back up. It looks like that leg is behind him, as far as the hamstring injury," Tice said. "… Even at positions where we have starters like Randy Moss, who is not going to be in any competition, the competition for the backup spots is going to be excellent also."

OK, actually Tice started his reply by talking about working out VU publisher Bob Lurtsema at the position (imagine the size advantage, but we're not convinced on his speed or hand-eye coordination).

Bates, who was buried as the fourth or fifth receiver in Chicago's system for the first three years of his NFL career, said he had to learn five different positions [in Chicago's high-motion, multi-receiver offense]. In Minnesota, he so far is concentrating on one position and working closely with position coach Charlie Baggett to learn the play book.

"The biggest thing is learning a new offense, coming from a system that I've been in for three years and really had down to a ‘t.' There is really nothing to compare to that offense; it's like a whole ‘nother thing," Bates said.

He is concentrating on split end right now, but that could change if the Vikings sign Alexander. Either way, Bates said he thinks he has the speed to stretch the field as a split end and other Vikings personnel think he is a strong runner of routes.

Bates said he came in and was accepted right away and has been hanging out with Randy Moss, Daunte Culpepper and cornerback Kenny Wright. Moss and Chris Walsh have helped Bates learn the position in the Vikings' system, he said.

"Sometimes, with lining up, I was thinking too much and would forget the play," Bates said of his first minicamp experience in late April. "We've got a lot more [of the play book] to put in, but at this time right now I think I'm really comfortable with it."

It showed with a touchdown pass from Culpepper in Friday's practice. But, as early as next week's Monday through Wednesday developmental camp or next weekend's minicamp, some of those passes could be going to Alexander. Doesn't bother Bates much, because he knew the score when he signed with the Vikings.

"Derrick's a great guy," Bates said. "When I signed in April and I sat down with Coach Tice one-on-one, he told me my ordeal, that we want you to come in and you have an opportunity to start, but we're going to bring in a veteran. So I knew what my challenge was coming in here.

"I feel being here is a better opportunity for my career than being in Chicago."

The Bears were the team, after all, who matched the Vikings' original offer to Bates, a restricted free agent at the time, then cut him a day later.

"It's hard not to [have any animosity toward the Bears], but basically I got caught in the business aspect of it. I respect the coaches there … I was happy Minnesota signed me right away. I really didn't expect the Bears to match it, and when they did I was shocked.

Then he was cut and had to wait to see if another team in front of the Vikings' seventh position on the waiver wire would be picking him up.

"I'm sitting at home for three days, 72 hours, waiting to see what was going to happen," Bates said. "I had a lot going on. I didn't know what to expect."

He's not quite sure what to expect in the next 72 hours as free agency heats up again, but at least this time he knows he will be in Minnesota for three years. Maybe he'll have a new teammate at wide receiver, maybe he won't.

Even if the Vikings do end up with no one but their current group of wide receivers in training camp, the position is deeper in talent than it has been in a decade. Randy Moss. Bates. James. Walsh. Campbell. Sean Dawkins. And rookie free agent waterbug receiver/return man Nick Davis. Any of those players would be a tough cut at the end of training camp.

* Center Matt Birk was taken for X-rays on his ankle shortly into today's practice. No word on his condition by the end of practice.
* Third-round draft choice Willie Offord is slowly getting more practice time at strong safety, splitting time with Tyrone Carter.
* Bates is currently the number two wide receiver, with James and Dawkins following.
* Fernando Smith worked out for defensive line coach George O'Leary after practice today, but there was no immediate announcement of him being signed.
* Wide receiver Chris Walsh was at practice Thursday and Friday after missing the first two days. Defensive end Lorenzo Bromell, who is getting married, missed the whole week.
* Randy Moss was kidding around and playing taskmaster during the special teams portion of practice. He prodded Kenny Clark and Nick Davis into doing pushups when they each dropped a punt.
* If there was any doubt on Culpepper's knee, erase it. He has looked very mobile at camp and was even having fun returning a couple punts (by the way, no, the Vikings aren't thinking of using him there).
* Chris Hovan, looking chiseled as ever, burst through the line for a sack (tag fashion without pads) of Culpepper on a short-yardage down. Hovan went into his World Wrestling Entertainment persona while razzing the offense. A couple plays later, while still working on the goal-to-go offense, Culpepper putting a move on blitzing linebacker Patrick Chukwurah and got to the corner of the end zone with huge grin on his face.
* Defensive tackle Darius Holland was lively as ever, talking often and encouraging the defensive backs. As one Vikings source said, Holland appears to be taking his job of football more seriously than he did earlier in his NFL career.
* Winfield Garnett was getting some work at left defensive end in certain defenses.
* The Vikings convene again on Monday for another three-day developmental camp, then go June 7-9 with their second minicamp. They finish their rotation of off-season camps with a June 10-13 developmental camp.

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