Sidney Rice might be the most talented receiver in the Vikings' improved corps, but he's not above trying to improve on a mostly solid rookie season.
Rice caught 31 passes for 396 yards and a team-leading four touchdown receptions in his rookie season, but the return of two veterans in Bobby Wade and Robert Ferguson and the addition of Bernard Berrian could help Rice improve on those numbers in 2008.
Berrian is expected to add a legitimate deep threat that the team's offensive attack was missing, but Rice is seeing more than just speed from Berrian.
"He hustles all the time. I like his commitment," said Rice, who has consistently gotten praise from the coaches for his own work ethic. "He's sprinting wherever he goes, running around trying to make plays. I think he's doing a real good job. He brings us along, too. He runs great routes. Just watching him come out of his cuts, seeing how fast he comes out of his cuts and how he tries not to slow himself down while waiting on the ball. … All of our vets are a tremendous help."
Rice admitted that Berrian is faster, but the second-year receiver seems to be catching tips from all of the veteran receivers.
"I do watch other receivers, a lot of them, even the ones on our team. Like I said before, we've got great veterans like Robert Ferguson, who's going on his eighth year, so he tells us what to do so we also know what to expect from him," Rice said. "He has high expectations for the younger guys. He's always dragging us along, whether he's staying out here and running late or in the meeting room watching film."
The little extras apparently have paid dividends off the field as well. Rice said he has been doing better with his weightlifting and watching what he eats, even going so far as to watch what other players grab when they go though the cafeteria at Winter Park.
Earlier this month, he said he had added on about eight pounds – going from 197 last year to 205 now "and I'm still able to keep up my speed. I'm still running pretty good."
"They always say you're not going to be young all your life, so you better get ready for that," said the youngest player on the team last year who will turn 22 on Sept. 1.
Rice's work hasn't gone unnoticed on the old receivers, either.
"I like Sidney. I noticed one thing: That he loves the game. You can see that in him. He's always running around playing catch," Berrian said. "A lot of times you'll see people that stand around in one spot. He's always moving around and catching. When we broke our little individual meetings, he and I stayed and watched film and made sure we finished it."
Rice said he is more confidence in his knowledge of the playbook this year, which he figures should help him use his natural athletic abilities better this year, and he's been working on his chemistry with quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. The two discussed plays and expectations during practices earlier this spring, and Rice proved to be a consistent target in and out of the red zone during team drills.
That is especially true on fade patterns, where he can use his 6-foot-4 frame to shield defenders and his jumping ability and solid hands to make the catch.
"You can't get to the top of your game and just expect to relax, so I'm still competing for every ball," he said. "Everything that goes up in the air, I'm just trying my best to come down with it and I know the teammates are going to give the same effort that they expect out of me."
After an interview in which he mentioned each of his veteran receivers individually at least once, there is little doubt that Rice appreciates the mentorship, especially after talking with other young players in the league.
"You hear some of the other rookies that we talk to in the league saying their vets don't even talk to them and don't tell them if they mess up or what's the matter," Rice said. "Here, it's different. I just feel like we're all together as one group."
Rice Appreciates Veteran Mentorship
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