Payne not counting his roster spot

Logan Payne's chances of securing a regular-season roster spot may have improved with the loss of Sidney Rice, but Payne is hardly counting the numbers at the position and making plans. He talked about the dynamic between the receivers as several of them battle for one or two precious spots.

The majority of the focus Tuesday at Vikings preseason practice was Sidney Rice. The Pro Bowl receiver and go-to target of choice for Brett Favre last year had surgery Monday and is expected to miss eight weeks if things go as planned.

While the loss of Rice hurts the Vikings offense, it opens an opportunity for a player who might be on the bubble. That has been the definition of Logan Payne's professional career.

Payne has bounced around the NFL as an undrafted free agent from the University of Minnesota signed by the Seattle Seahawks. He spent two years with Seattle, learning the Mike Holmgren version of the West Coast offense. In 2009, he spent time with the Chiefs and Lions, but never found his niche.

With the Vikings, he has caught everything in sight – looking like a poor man's Wes Welker. Clearly on the bubble entering training camp, he has made it tougher for the Vikings to consider releasing him. But he said that things haven't changed among the available receiver corps despite the loss of the top dog from 2009.

"It's terrible that Sidney got hurt," Payne said. "But, from the receiver standpoint, we're not changing anything. Any time we're out here and getting an opportunity – whether it's me or it's (veteran Greg) Lewis or whoever – it's a good thing for the team. Whether it's the scout team, the first team or the second team, we're all taking advantage of our opportunities. With this situation, we're getting more of those opportunities. We've got to step it up, have some fun and play some football."

The competition for young players or outsiders to secure a roster spot on the 2010 Vikings is about as difficult as it is for any team in the league. The Vikings are a veteran-laden team that, before the loss of Rice for the first half of the season, not only had all 22 starters returning, but all three specialists and a more than a dozen key reserves.

Although the Rice injury clearly opens an additional roster spot – whether for Javon Walker or somebody else – Payne insists that the competition among the receivers isn't based on whether the Vikings keep five wide receivers or six on the final 53-man roster.

"From the players' standpoint, we don't look at that," Payne said. "I know you guys (in the media) look at it that way as outsiders, but we don't really count (roster spots). Everyone is good – if they weren't good players they wouldn't be here. We just try to come out and push each other better, try to compete and take advantage of the opportunity."

It would be natural to assume that there could be some friction between the new players on the roster knowing that a half-dozen of them are competing for what may well turn out to be just one roster spot. Yet, the handful of "bubble" receivers don't view their daily battles as competition and there is no resentment among them.

"Not at all, man," Payne said when asked if it is difficult to be friends with players who may stand in the way of their professional football dream. "This is one the best groups of receivers I've been with in my four years. I've learned a lot from them. Hopefully, they've learned a lot from me. That's what makes this team so special. Everyone is good and pushing each other. That's what's going to take it to the next level."

The transition for Payne has been made somewhat easier by his experience in the West Coast system in Seattle. While there are different variations on the general WCO scheme, he said this time around is much different from when he showed up in Seahawks camp looking to make an impression.

"It's a little bit different from what I had in college," Payne said. "Being with the Gophers, we ran the ball a lot. The West Coast for me coming out (of college) when I was out in Seattle three years ago, it was kind of tough. Once you get used to a lot of concepts and lot of memorization and you get it down, it's pretty simple."

Coaches will tell you that the best thing a young player can do is make it impossible to cut him. Payne has done as much as any receiver to make a claim to a roster spot. He is the team leader this preseason with eight catches. He is making the most of this chance and said that, for those players who aren't blue-chip players, making the right plays at the right time is what lays the groundwork for making it to the regular season.

"This game is about opportunities," Payne said. "As a group and as individuals, we're out to make the most of our chances and take advantage of those opportunities when they come up."

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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