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VIKINGS: Team counting on receivers Berrian, Jenkins to stretch field

MANKATO, Minn. -- After a lengthy NFL lockout, and with a condensed training camp period in which to teach his offense, new Vikings coordinator Bill Musgrave simply wants to make sure his players "know what the hell we're doing" this week.

Bernard Berrian
(File photo/Carlos Gonzalez/Minneapolis Star Tribune/MCT)

MANKATO, Minn. -- After a lengthy NFL lockout, and with a condensed training camp period in which to teach his offense, new Vikings coordinator Bill Musgrave simply wants to make sure his players "know what the hell we're doing" this week.

But the personnel area that has drawn the most scrutiny and public skepticism -- the vertical-threat wide receivers -- is one Musgrave is most comfortable with because of familiarity and veteran presence.

Bernard Berrian, disgruntled a year ago, and Michael Jenkins, cut by Atlanta last week, are seeking rejuvenation under Musgrave, who worked with Jenkins last season as the Falcons' quarterbacks coach.

The Vikings are counting on the two to stretch the field for 34-year-old quarterback Donovan McNabb while receiver Percy Harvin and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe work inside.

As players with new contracts, Berrian, 30, and Jenkins, 29, can begin practicing today. The Vikings restructured Berrian's contract and signed Jenkins to a three-year, free-agent contact.

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"Even though they are getting a little long in the tooth between (Jenkins) and Bernard Berrian, we feel like that will be part of their role is to be able to stretch the field and give us a chance to throw the ball down the field and achieve some chunks," Musgrave said.

The Vikings' receiver corps improved with the addition of Jenkins, who has caught at least 50 passes in three of the past four seasons. At 6 feet 4, Jenkins can use his size to battle for positioning. He's fast, too, Musgrave said -- once he gets going.

"He's not going to be able get in and out of breaks like a Percy Harvin or Steve Smith," Musgrave said. "But Mike has his strengths, and he'll be smart. He'll be able to play all of our wide receiver spots and fill in and adapt and adjust if something happens that is unforeseen."

The Falcons cut ties with Jenkins after drafting Julio Jones to pair with Roddy White, and the Vikings quickly picked up the phone. Wide receivers coach George Stewart was with Atlanta when the team drafted Jenkins in 2004, and defensive coordinator Fred Pagac was at Ohio State when Jenkins played there.

Jenkins embraces his new role in Minnesota as an opportunity to "show what I have left."

"I think it's deceptive speed," he said of his downfield ability. "I'm excited to get out there and really show what all of us can do, getting down the field, making plays downfield and making the tough grabs, underneath grabs, everything else that comes with being a receiver in this league."

The Brett Favre era did not end well for the Vikings or Berrian, who became increasingly frustrated last season on his way to a 28-catch, zero-touchdown performance.

After talking with the coaching staff about the new offense, Berrian said he's "definitely happy" about how he can be utilized.

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Berrian is still expected to be the team's primary deep route-runner and will occupy the split-end role in the offense.

"I liked the offense going through the book when I first got it, seeing the plays and finding out...not really knowing my role but just seeing what the plays are and how the system is run," Berrian said. "It's really, really interchangeable. I mean, we have X, Z, H and that, but everyone's pretty much going to be doing everything."

The Vikings' job is to play to Berrian's strength, which is speed. That process began in the offseason as coaches watched his film from 2008, when he averaged 20.1 yards per catch for Minnesota.

But tape can tell Musgrave only so much, which is why he's eager to work with Berrian in Mankato.

"We want to know what Bernard excels at," Musgrave said, "and then we want to make sure to put him in those positions so he can do what he's comfortable with and has confidence in and also that fits in our system."

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Related Topics: FOOTBALL
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