It took four years in the NFL before Cortez Hankton got his first start, but the wide receiver in his first year with the Minnesota Vikings was proving to be one of the team's more consistent receivers in organized team activities and minicamp in the last month.
"For anybody, the more you make plays on a consistent basis, the more you're going to get opportunities to make more plays. That's what it's all about, from the top guys to the bottom guys," Hankton said.
After four seasons of limited production and opportunities in Jacksonville, Hankton signed with the Vikings in mid-April. With the change in climate and scenery comes a change in offensive scheme as well.
"This is a true West Coast system. We had a little bit of mixture of everything in Jacksonville," Hankton said. "It's about the same as far as a learning curve. I really didn't have a problem picking it up. I like the offense because it gives you an opportunity to make plays."
He has done that consistently since the team's practice schedule picked up following the draft. Besides maybe Bobby Wade, another free-agent acquisition of the Vikings, Hankton might have been the team's most reliable receiver this offseason, but that might not be a surprise when viewing the collective experience and production of the rest of the team's receivers. He and Wade are the "old guys" of the group with four years of NFL experience each.
"Being vested is definitely an accomplishment, and I feel like I could bring some experience to the group. It's a young, talented group, and I feel like this kind of being a sore spot of the team last year from what I'm hearing, just to be the strength of the corps – not to be the weak link of the team, be one of the strong points – that's what we're trying to do," Hankton said.
Hankton has been used mainly with the second- and third-team offenses, depending on the formations and personnel groupings they have been employing. Troy Williamson, Bobby Wade and rookie Sidney Rice are ahead of Hankton, but he has been used with the first team on some four-receiver formations.
"I think it's kind of a mix and match. I'm more on second team right now, which is not that far back. It's not like I'm buried down deep on a depth chart. So it's all about competition, going out there to compete and not really worrying about the depth chart," he said. "Just worry about every time you get on that field to make plays, you come through.
"I feel like my whole NFL career I've been under the radar so that's nothing new to me, and I don't mind playing the underdog or anything like that. All I'm going to say is that I'm going to come up, be committed and work hard every day and try to make this team a better team."
The Vikings currently have 12 receivers on the roster after the release of Maurice Mann and Randy Hymes in the last two weeks and the signing of Paris Hamilton. That means there are a lot of bodies to beat out for a spot on the 53-man roster at the end of preseason, but Hankton is used to a crowded corps or receivers, even if it isn't the strength of the team.
He was in a similar situation in Jacksonville, but there he felt squeezed at times because the Jaguars were trying to get their more recent draft picks on the field.
"It is what it is. You've got some guys down there who were high draft picks and it's just the nature of the beast – they're going to get every opportunity," he said. "Not to take anything away from (here), they do have a group of talented receivers, they've just had some rough times. As a coach or an organization, you've got to stick with them, just take the heat along with them and hopefully they produce."
His limited action in Jacksonville means he only has 34 receptions and 310 receiving yards in his four years as a Jaguar, half of that production coming in his rookie season. And, despite competing with three 2007 draft picks at receiver, he said there were many attractions to coming to Minnesota.
"Everything, the whole organization, from the city, front office, Coach (Brad) Childress, the receivers coach, Coach (George) Stewart, the offense," he said. "And then a brand new fresh opportunity. I definitely couldn't pass that up. And then I knew what the situation was – we had a young group of guys to compete and everybody was going to get a fair opportunity."
Keys for Cortez: Leadership, Consistency
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