Nance Gets Another Chance

Wide receiver Martin Nance showed what he could do in the final game of 2006, and he flashed his potential again during Wednesday's training camp practices. See what Nance was doing and what he had to say about his performance, plus get another 20 notes from Wednesday afternoon's practice.

One goes down, another steps up.

That's been the process at training camp's opening week with Bryant McKinnie, Billy McMullen and Erasmus James starting camp sidelined with injuries and various other players taking a day off here and there with different nicks, strains and bruises.

McKinnie is out and Artis Hicks slides to left tackle. With Hicks there, Anthony Herrera plays right guard. Ben Leber strains a leg and Dontarrious Thomas is practicing as the starting strongside linebacker. Chester Taylor gets a forearm contusion and Adrian Peterson steps into the starting lineup.

On Wednesday, it was Martin Nance's turn.

With Billy McMullen still on the non-football injury list and Aundrae Allison missing much of the morning practice and all of the afternoon sessions with a barking hamstring, Nance reminded observers of his receiving skills.

"I've spent over a year in this offense right now and worked a lot of hours with the quarterbacks in the offseason, so I'm excited to put it on the field," said the 6-foot-3, 212-pound receiver.

For 14 games last season, Nance was just another name on the Minnesota Vikings' practice squad. Before the 15th game, he was promoted to the 53-man roster but was still part of the eight players who were made game-day deactives.

And then came his one shot to "put it on film" during a game situation and he made the most of it. In the season-ending game with St. Louis, Nance caught four passes for 33 yards, tying for the most catches by a rookie free agent in 2006.

He hasn't become an immediate superstar, but he did go from unknown commodity to one of the first players head coach Brad Childress mentioned in the offseason before the draft when talking about the receiver corps.

"The guy that played the last game, Martin Nance, looks like he's had a very good offseason before the offseason program even started …" Childress said at the owners meetings in late March.

"He played with (Ben) Roethlisberger at Miami-Ohio, so he has some knowledge about the passing game. He's a bigger-in-stature kid, can bend, has good hands. He needs to improve on his physical ability at the line of scrimmage to get off his press coverage."

Nance finished his Redhawks career with the third-most receptions in school history and averaged 107 yards per game in 2003, setting a school record with 90 catches for 1,493 yards.

Nance said he didn't see Childress's comments from the owners' meetings, "but Coach Childress has a great grasp of that offense and any compliments that we get from him, we appreciate."

If Wednesday's repetitions in several different situations were any indication, Nance has found a way to free himself from at least the second-string cornerbacks. In the morning practice, he and Tarvaris Jackson connected on a 45-yard reception down the left sideline during cornerback-vs.-wide receiver drills. Later, during seven-on-seven work in the red zone, he caught a 15-yard touchdown from Jackson. He added another long reception from Brooks Bollinger during nine-on-seven work.

"Me and Tarvaris have put in a ton of hours in the offseason together so when you come out here it may appear like I'm meshing with one guy more than the other, but I think I have a good connection with all the guys," Nance said. "They do a great job of making the reads that they're taught so we know where and when to expect the ball from all of those guys."

But it all started when the Buffalo Bills released him just before the start of last season and the Vikings picked him up, finally giving him a chance to show his skills during the last game of 2006.

"It was exciting for me," Nance said. "It gave me a spark and inspired me to work hard all offseason and really just gave me the motivation coming into the year," Nance said, adding later that "going into the preseason, I just want a chance to put my product on the field and help the team win."

Observations from Wednesday afternoon's practice, conducted in helmets, shorts and soft shoulder pads:

  • Wide receiver Todd Lowber has struggled some in training camp, but he adjusted nicely to one pass thrown behind him.

  • Running back Adrian Peterson has showed good hands all offseason, but he dropped one pass he should have had on swing pass from Brooks Bollinger.

  • Wide receiver Jason Carter made a nice adjustment to a pass thrown behind him by Bollinger.

  • Linebacker Dontarrious Thomas continued to fill in for the injured Ben Leber on the strong side. Chad Greenway and E.J. Henderson remained the nickel linebackers.

    During 7-on-7 drills:

  • WR Cortez Hankton made a nice diving catch on a throw from Tarvaris Jackson.

  • Defensive line coach Karl Dunbar made his linemen run a casual gasser (across the field and back) during the skill-position players' other work.

  • Safety Tank Williams nearly intercepted a Bollinger pass intended for Nance.

    During 11-on-11 work:

  • Jackson and Bollinger both started strong with short completions, but Bollinger and WR Sidney Rice appeared to have a miscommunication on one route when Rice ran a post route and Bollinger threw a pass that looked like he expected an outside cut.

  • Jackson hit WR Chandler Williams on a nice short throw after stepping up to avoid pressure in the pocket.

  • Drew Henson was the third quarterback in, but he threw a couple of wobbly ducks on outlet passes.

  • Linebacker Rufus Alexander had a nice pass breakup on a throw from Tyler Thigpen intended for tight end Braden Jones.

  • WR Troy Williamson dropped a pass right on target that hit him on the numbers, but he followed that up with several other nice receptions to the encouragement of fans. Later, Williamson made a diving catch on a pass from Jackson for about a 15-yard gain on third-and-10.

  • Jackson overthrew Rice on a long pass down the right sidelines and shortly thereafter overthrew Williamson down the left sideline. Jackson later had a nifty little move, scrambling to his right and looking like he was going to run for it before pitching a short forward pass to running back Artose Pinner.

  • Bollinger and Jackson each had some nice gains when they pulled the ball down and ran after being unable to find an open receiver.

  • Marcus Johnson got some work at right tackle with the second team, but he hasn't seen much of an opportunity with the first team.

  • Antoine Winfield deflected a pass intended for RB Mewelde Moore.

  • All it takes to get some of the fans going is a little juke from first-round pick Adrian Peterson and they are ready to "crown him," as Dennis Green would say.

    Other notes:

  • WRs Justin Surrency and Chandler Williams, along with CB Charles Gordon, returned kicks during the special teams portion of the afternoon practice.

  • Several wide receivers and tight ends, along with Rufus Alexander, stayed long after practice catching balls from the JUGS machine.

  • The cornerbacks and safeties also spent additional time working on technique and catching passes from each other and position coaches.

  • LB Ben Leber continued to be held out of action, along with WR Billy McMullen and DE Erasmus James.

  • Thursday brings a full practice from 9 to 11:15 a.m. and a short practice in the afternoon (2:15-3:30 p.m.) before the team's family barbeque. Family members of the players are expected to watch some of the practices tomorrow.

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