Notebook: Receivers had breakout seasons

Sidney Rice made the Pro Bowl in his third season and Percy Harvin did it as a rookie kick returner. Both returned for minicamp and looked sharp. See what the Vikings' coordinators had to say about that, plus reaction to Antoine Winfield's return and the numbers being rotated through on special teams.

Percy Harvin returned to the Vikings 10 to 15 pounds heavier. Sidney Rice returned to catching nearly every pass in sight in minicamp.

Just one year ago, those two receiver were uncertainties for the Vikings. Rice was coming off an injury-filled and frustrating first two seasons, but during a breakout, Pro Bowl season he showed a whole new side to his possibilities.

"Over (last) season he became a completely different player than we had seen the first two years," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. "I think it makes him have confidence in himself. He gained confidence in himself."

Bevell also credited quarterback Brett Favre for instilling confidence in Rice. In fact, Favre quickly became a proponent of Rice's abilities and didn't hesitate to throw him the ball. But after Rice put up his first 1,000-yard season, Bevell expects more of the same from his emerging receiver.

"Coming into the season I think he expects to be able to play with that same level," Bevell said. "Kind of pick up where he left off and continue to have successful seasons for us."

Rice led the team in receptions (83), receiving yards (1,312) and average per catch (15.8) last year.

Harvin didn't need two years in the league to break out. He made the Pro Bowl in his rookie season as a kick returner, averaging 27.5 yards per return, and quickly established himself as a versatile receiving threat.

"Percy looks good," Bevell said. "I know he has added a couple of pounds but he looks pretty rocked up. He looks like he has been working hard. He is running around out here well. You can still see his ability to make plays, catch the ball. I like what we see out of him right now."

Of course, both of those players would benefit from having the same quarterback this year. While nearly everyone expects Favre to return to the Vikings for a second season and the NFL for a 20th season, Favre hasn't announced his intentions yet and he isn't attending minicamp this weekend while recovering from ankle surgery.

Bevell is friends with Favre and updated his situation, at least as much as the Vikings are inclined to give a Favre update.

"He is doing fine, doing well. He's just taking care of his ankle right now," Bevell said.


Cornerback Antoine Winfield is back on the practice field and healthier than he has been since at least midseason last year, when he fractured his foot, missed six games and played with pain the remainder of the season.

Winfield made the Pro Bowl in 2008 for the first time in his career, but he wasn't elected for that honor last year after missing so much time. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier expects Winfield to return to that level.

"I'm expecting another Pro Bowl season. He knows how I feel and that is what he wants as well," Frazier said. "He is so important to what we do on defense. I'm looking forward to him having a great year this year."


More than likely, the Vikings will have Harvin back returning kickoffs and Reynaud returning punts, but at this point in the evaluation process several other players are being given an opportunity to show their talents returning kicks and punts.

Harvin, fellow receivers Ray Small and Jaymar Johnson, and cornerback Marcus Sherels were returning kickoffs on Saturday. On Friday, Lito Sheppard joined Small and Sherels as punt returners.

"You're trying to rep a load of guys and let that sort out," special teams coordinator Brian Murphy said. "Once we get through Mankato, once we get through that first two weeks, we'll settle on probably about four or five guys and the rest will fit positions. But right now, a lot goes into not only the ability to be a returner, but can you play a different position? Are you better being a blocker than a returner? So, those are all things that you sort out."

Murphy said his offseason evaluation revealed several areas in which he'd like to see his special teams improve.

"Every area has got that little something that you want to tweak," Murphy said. "There are a couple issues in the kickoff, first off, start eliminating missed tackles, being more consistent on the fits. In the punt, being better in the plus-50. In punt return, finishing at the point. We need to score on the punt return. Every area has some detail that you'd like to clean up. We have good players and they're committed to being better at the whole picture."

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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