He's been a rookie with high expectations placed on him. He's been a journeyman receiver. And he's also been a part-time productive receiver. Now, after signing a five-year, $15 million contract with the Vikings this spring, Bobby Wade is taking on the role veteran leader.
At least that is one of the roles that the Vikings forecast for him in 2007, a year that provide a breakout season for a relatively productive but unheralded receiver.
"I've always considered myself a guy that likes to be in front of the line, in front of the class type of guy, but obviously having younger players on this receiving corps it's easy to have them look up at me and see what I've been doing," Wade said after an organized team activity (OTA) practice this spring. "Not only that, but the experience that I have on a couple other teams helps. Whatever I can bring, whether that's paying attention in the back of the line and watching me work or in the classroom taking notes, whatever we can do as veteran players I think it's going to rub off."
Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell says that Wade has taken on a leadership role, and that might be even more important with a young and relatively inexperienced group of receivers and a second-year quarterback expected to become a full-time starter in 2007. That quarterback, Tarvaris Jackson, said he believes he has already established a rapport with many of his receivers.
On Wade specifically, Jackson thinks he has a receiver that can catch a short pass and turn it into a 20-yard gain. Wade also believes the rapport between Jackson and the receivers is building.
"I think it's taking off. Each day we're getting better. … He's a great learner – he's very teachable and I'm the same way – so I think we're going to have no problem," Wade said.
Being in the league for four years, Wade knows the value of building rapport with teammates, which made the high turnout for OTAs and minicamps this offseason a good thing for offensive skill-position players coming together from different backgrounds and systems.
"I want to make it a point to be at every function that we have possible, build camaraderie. Not only that, but also get a chance to work with the players that I'll be playing with," Wade said. "From that standpoint, being around is probably a big deal for me, but it's been good. I think we had a lot of guys show up for offseason training, which is a big deal. And then here for OTAs, we had a big turnout so things are looking on the up.
"This is a team game and if you know the person you're playing next to, you know your teammates, it puts a little more onus on you to do your job and know what you need to do and a little more accountability."
Wade said head coach Brad Childress talked about having the team become closer, and being a receiver already with his third team in five years, that is probably a welcome directive from the top. Add the Vikings' confidence in the somewhat unproven Wade, and that might motivate him further to embrace a leadership role.
In four years with the Chicago Bears and Tennessee Titans, Wade didn't put together back-to-back seasons with more than 15 catches. After an average rookie season in which he caught 12 passes for the Chicago Bears, Wade went on to his most productive season as a professional—42 receptions for 481 yards—and then the following season he was released in Week 13 and picked up by the Titans.
Last year, he settled into Titans offensive coordinator Norm Chow's scheme and returned to being a productive receiver. After only 14 catches in split-time duty with the Bears and Titans in 2005, he caught 33 passes for Tennessee in a part-time role in 2006. He also returned 50 kickoffs for 1,194 yards (23.9-yard average) last year, a role he could assume this year in purple.
The opportunities are expected to be even greater this year in Minnesota.
"I'm definitely going to try to take full advantage of this. I had a chance earlier in my career to be this guy, but obviously not as polished, not as experienced as I am right now. Not only that, but I didn't have the same players around me or the same coaches. All of those things come into play that are really going to help me pick my play up and help this team win," said Wade, who will be counted on mainly from the slot receiving position.
"In the middle of the field in the NFL is obviously the most vulnerable part to play. There's a lot of space inside. Obviously, I'll be running across there and we'll have a lot of guys running across there. It's just a great opportunity to make plays in there, so if you want to call it a safety guy or not, I don't know, but we've got a lot of good players on this offense right now. There are a lot of good additions and we've got a lot of weapons."
Asked if he figures on this being a breakout year for him with more responsibility, he showed his leadership savvy once again.
"More importantly, I hope it's a breakout year for this team to get back on track and get to the playoffs and have an opportunity to go to the show," he said.
WR Wade Leaning Toward Leadership
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