In his first two seasons with the Vikings, injuries and underachievement were the buzz words as it pertained to Rice. In his first two years, Rice missed six games due to injuries and, in the 26 that he played in 2007 and 2008, he caught just 46 passes for 537 yards and eight touchdowns. In 16 games last season with Favre under center, Rice caught 83 passes for 1,312 yards and eight touchdowns, earning selection to the Pro Bowl.
Favre said that Rice has only begun to scratch the surface of his potential and that his loss will leave a big void in the Vikings receiver corps.
"There's no doubt it makes things a lot tougher," Favre said. "Sidney's production speaks for itself. In Sidney's case, it wasn't a ‘one-year wonder' type thing. I think the guy's legit. It's unfortunate because, with this injury he has, who knows when he'll be back. Percy's situation obviously is kind of iffy. We expect big things from him – bigger than last year – but he has to take care of himself first."
Percy Harvin has been making his way back from a training camp bout with migraine headaches and a collapse on the practice field last week that ended with making an overnight stay in a local hospital.
The Vikings have taken significant steps to attempt to fill that chasm left in Rice's wake, signing veteran Javon Walker earlier this week and completing a trade Wednesday that sent cornerback Benny Sapp to the Dolphins in exchange for wide receiver Greg Camarillo. While there are going to be a lot of new players that will attempt to build a rapport with Favre, he said that injuries are a part of the game and that somebody needs to step up to keep the momentum the Vikings have built over the last couple of years going.
"It's not a lot different from last year as far as chemistry is concerned," Favre said. "It would have been nice to come in and go to bat with the guys we finished with last year, but that is part of football. Every coach will say the same thing – regardless of who is in there, we have to play the same way. I got my opportunity the same way – a guy (Don Majkowski) gets injured, I stepped in and never looked back. This is going to be an opportunity for some of these guys that they probably otherwise wouldn't have had and we have to get on board together rather quickly. It will be tougher. I'm not going to sit here and lie to you. It will be tougher than we had hoped, so we're going to have our work cut out for us."
Favre said he was surprised by the announcement Monday that Rice had gone to Vail, Colo., and had the hip procedure that will keep him out a minimum of eight weeks, according to head coach Brad Childress. He and Rice and remained in contact through text messages during the offseason and, although Favre knew Rice had lingering injury concerns, he didn't know how serious the condition was.
When asked if Favre's decision to return for a 20th season might have been different had he known that Rice wouldn't be available, he said it wasn't an issue because he simply didn't know the severity of Rice's ailing hip.
"I don't know that for certain, because that obviously wasn't the case," Favre said. "It's hard enough at 40 to play. You take a guy out who had roughly 90-something catches (93 including playoffs) and was obviously pretty productive, but there (are) more guys on this team. This is a really good football team in a lot of areas. The big improvement last year was obviously the passing game. This team had been very, very good prior to that without that part of it. So we know we can pass. Without Sidney it sure makes it tougher, but going into the season last year, no one expected the season that Sidney was going to have. So maybe there's another guy who can step up and do that."
Favre said he believes that other players are going to improve their game to help replace Rice during his absence, but the quarterback added that the pressure might not be limited to the new and old crew of wide receivers – it goes teamwide.
"Sidney or no Sidney, our running game has to be more productive and controlling throughout the season," Favre said. "We have to pick up in other phases. If we can run the ball better, obviously it keeps your defense off the field. We can be a little better on special teams and be productive in the passing game by using the running game. All that's easier said than done, but I'm happy to be here. I have no idea what will happen this year. It's unfortunate with Sidney. Hopefully we get Percy back, but it can't change the way I approach the game or my feelings towards it. I'd love to have him, but we go to bat with who we got and try to make the most of it."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.