Shiancoe: Childress' most improved

Vikings coach Brad Childress said last week on Sirius NFL Radio that he thought tight end Visanthe Shiancoe was the Vikings' most improved player. It's hard to argue. See what Shiancoe had to say about his improvement, his goals and what Childress said about him.

A year ago at this time, Vikings fans were shaking their collective heads and wondering what coach Brad Childress & Co. saw in tight end Visanthe Shiancoe when they signed him to a five-year, $18.2 million contract.

Shiancoe's first year in purple brought numerous dropped balls and buckets full of frustration from him and the fan base. A year later, the tone has changed dramatically.

When Childress, who praised Shiancoe's abilities from the outset, was asked on Sirius NFL Radio last week which player was the most improved, he cited Shiancoe.

"I would think almost to a man our guys would recognize Visanthe Shiancoe as making a quantum leap," Childress said. "I know we took him in free agency two years ago from the New York Giants, but you talk about stepping up your game and a completely different player, he was a completely different player as we went into year two."

After four years with the New York Giants, the Vikings took a leap of faith in his pass-catching abilities. Coming out of Morgan State in 2003, Shiancoe had worked out for Childress when he was with the Philadelphia Eagles, but they decided to draft L.J. Smith ahead of Shiancoe. During his Giants days (2003-2006), he caught a combined 35 passes and three touchdowns.

Last year, his first with the Vikings, he had 27 receptions and one touchdown, but he dropped too many passes to be considered a reliable target. That changed in 2008, when he hauled in 42 passes for 596 yards and tied for the team lead with seven touchdown receptions. He also took numerous hard hits without fumbling or dropping the ball.

Even so, Shiancoe declined to call 2008 a breakout season for him.

"No, I don't feel like that. I feel like this is me stepping into the room and just getting started," he said. "I feel like I could be a lot better and I'm going to really focus on that this year. Just working more with the QBs, working more with Brad and (offensive coordinator Darrell) Bevell, ways I can help with the offense, ways they can get me the ball.

"For quarterbacks to wide receivers, for us to know what each other is going to do during certain defenses is very important – if he knows I'm going to run the 10-yard in-cut in Cover-3 vs. the single high, plays like that."

In some ways, quarterback Tarvaris Jackson's 2008 season was reminiscent of Shiancoe from 2007 to 2008. Jackson struggled early, was showered with criticism and rebounded at the end of the regular season.

"I feel he had a resilient season. He was down at first and he came back strong," Shiancoe said while throwing his support to Jackson. "For the offseason, I'm not going to be thinking about any other quarterback. I feel like that's our man. I don't feel any changes should be made. That's my opinion."

Jackson talked about trying to do too much in his first two games this season and admitted it's hard sometimes to tune out the critics. Shiancoe, meanwhile, said he was never motivated by the negative comments. He just credited his progress to his maturation in understanding the offense.

"I don't really care about the criticisms to tell you the truth. I'm a professional. You just learn, that's all. You get more involved in the offense and you understand the offense more. It's just a process," he said. "It's like the rookie coming to the NFL. You've got to get used to that and that's what I did. I feel I can only get better in the offense."

Shiancoe proved throughout the season that he's willing to put in the extra time and effort. After nearly every practice during the season, he could be spotted catching extra passes and putting himself in awkward physical positions to challenge himself while locating and catching the ball.

"Definitely I worked a lot harder this year than I did last year and I understood the game a little bit more and understood what it takes to excel in this game," he said. "Sometimes it takes a little bit of extra. You have to sacrifice other things in life – maybe you don't invite family or you don't go to this place on Saturday or Friday. You get your rest. You treat your body the way it's supposed to be treated."

So how far did Shiancoe come in 2008? Is it really possible that he could go from a 2007 bummer to a 2009 Pro Bowler? The numbers say he's close.

While Shiancoe's 42 receptions this year didn't come close to those of NFC Pro Bowl tight ends Jason Witten (81) and Chris Cooley (83), it's clear that Shiancoe produced more explosive plays and more touchdowns. While Shiancoe had 596 yards on 42 catches, Wiiten produced 952 yards and Cooley had 849 yards – but Shiancoe's 14.2 yards-per-catch average dwarfed Witten's 11.8 average and Cooley's 10.2-yard average. Witten had four touchdowns and Cooley one, compared to Shiancoe's eight.

"Oh, yeah. I feel I have that in me, 110 percent I feel I have that in me," Shiancoe said of being a future Pro Bowl player. "I'm going to have to take advantage of every opportunity I get. A lot could change in the NFL."

"If you have God-given talent, it's a sin not to take advantage of that and not to tweak it up."

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