A Chance For Shiancoe?

Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe is third on the Vikings' reception list halfway through the season, but his biggest opportunity might be coming this Sunday. What was it that had Shiancoe smiling this week in the locker room?

Fantasy football players are always looking for some kind of an edge when they're picking up players as injuries take a toll. Looking for a sleeper this week? OK, a Super R.E.M. Deep Sleeper? Try Visanthe Shiancoe.

Shiancoe, who was signed by the Vikings as a free agent from the Giants in the offseason, came to Minnesota as a tight end known much more for his skills as a blocker. When you're lined up on a team that has tight end Jeremy Shockey, running back Tiki Barber and wide receiver Plaxico Burress, there was only one ball to go around and Shiancoe found his job more in moving defenders than moving the chains.

That was supposed to change in Minnesota. Although Shiancoe isn't lighting the word on fire offensively – he has 16 catches for 171 yards and one TD through eight games – the team has found spots to utilize him more in the passing game in recent weeks and the Packers could be just what the doctor ordered.

The Packers defense has done an outstanding job this year in keeping the game-breaking wide receivers from posting big days against them. They have shut down some big-time offenses, from the Eagles to the Giants to the Redskins to the Broncos, without letting their top wide receivers have the big play that can change a game. However, if there is an Achilles heel, it has been at the tight end position.

The Packers have allowed three 100-yard receiving days to the opposition this year – all of them being tight ends. In Week 3, Antonio Gates of the Chargers went off for 113 yards on 11 receptions. In Week 6, Washington's Chris Cooley caught nine passes for 105 yards and a touchdown. Last week, Tony Gonzalez of Kansas City caught 10 passes for 109 yards and a touchdown. It is clear that the tight end has been able to flourish against a stingy Packers defense, making Shiancoe believe there is a good chance he could make a return to being a force on the offense.

"I was a pass-catcher in college," Shiancoe said. "But, I was used almost exclusively as a blocker with the Giants. That was what they chose to do. Minnesota has allowed me to use both my talents as a blocker and receiver. The Giants only allowed me to use one of my talents."

Perhaps part of Shiancoe's inability to consistently be an offensive contributor has been the merry-go-round at quarterback for the Vikings this season. Of their eight games, they have seen Tarvaris Jackson, Kelly Holcomb and Brooks Bollinger each get significant playing time. With each quarterback comes a different touch on the ball, and, in the case of T-Jack, velocity that needs a little time to adjust to.

"Tarvaris throws a ball unlike anyone I've ever seen," Shiancoe said. "You have to really look it in all the way. It comes with heat. You don't know how fast it's coming until it's right on you. Some people may drop his ball, but that can be good for us, because defensive guys who touch those passes don't catch them either."

Shiancoe has spent his time as a first-time tight end, alternating between all three quarterbacks during practice over the last two months and said he has built a rapport with all of them.

"Each guy is a little different in his own way," Shiancoe said. "But the big thing for me is to get open and be ready if they throw me the ball. If they put a good pass in there and I catch it, it will give them more confidence that if we need a big pass, they can count on me and look my way."

While Shiancoe's numbers may not look extraordinary, the key to the Vikings-Packers rivalry – which almost always includes games that aren't decided until the final minutes – is making plays at critical times. If the Packers defense is allowing tight ends to catch eight to 10 passes in given games, that hasn't been lost on Shiancoe or the Vikings coaching staff. If they're willing to let Shiancoe get his looks over the middle, the Vikings will take them. Considering the monster days other tight ends have put up against Green Bay, Shiancoe couldn't help but smile.

"Every tight end loves to hear something like that," Shiancoe said of the tight end success against the Packers defense. "Whatever they give us on offense, we're going to take. We've got some plays in the game plan (for tight ends) and we'll see how the game plays out and if we use them. Other teams have and it has worked. We might too."

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