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Shiancoe is Minnesota's go-to guy

MANKATO, Minn. -- The interview is finished and Visanthe Shiancoe is headed back to his dorm room to play Mortal Kombat and provide Twitter updates. But he has a final thought.

Visanthe Shiancoe (2008)
Minnesota Vikings' Visanthe Shiancoe shed Atlanta Falcons tackler Coy Wire on his way to the end zone for a touchdown reception in the first quarter at the Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Sunday, December 21, 2008. (Jeff Wheeler/Minneapolis Star Tribune/MCT)

MANKATO, Minn. -- The interview is finished and Visanthe Shiancoe is headed back to his dorm room to play Mortal Kombat and provide Twitter updates. But he has a final thought.

He asks for help trying to remember the name of a Greek mythological figure. He even strikes the pose, but the name escapes the group.

"Google it," he said, laughing as he drove away in a cart.

The randomness of the exchange is minimized by the fact it involved Shiancoe. Not only is the Vikings tight end an emerging star on the field, he's also one of the more colorful players inside the locker room.

Shiancoe's breakout 2008 season put him on the cusp of becoming one of the NFL's elite at his position after a shaky debut with the Vikings in 2007. He ranked third among all NFL tight ends with seven touchdown catches last season, and his 596 receiving yards eclipsed his total (576) from his first five seasons combined.

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He became more sure-handed as a receiver and more at ease in his interviews, which often are amusing, engaging, frank and insightful with a touch of goofiness. He coined the Brett Favre soap opera "Favre-a-palooza" and once offered a comical tale about a fish going from a pond to a lake to an ocean when describing his development as a player.

"A lot of times in interviews I may say some stuff that has nothing to do with anything," he said. "We'll be talking about Brett Favre, and I might be talking about how the hell do birds fly?"

'Pretty random'

Shiancoe isn't afraid to share such deep thoughts on Twitter with his nearly 3,000 followers.

"I like Twitter because it's a way of expressing yourself No. 1, and it's a way for fans to connect with you and know that you're human and that you go through the same things that they go through," he said.

It's also a way to challenge people to games of Mortal Kombat and Call of Duty on Playstation 3 (username: thashanku).

"I take on all challengers," he said.

Mind you, this also is the same guy who served as a professor for Football 101 events for women when he played for the New York Giants.

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"Everyone thinks I'm mean when they see me, you know that, right?" he said. "I guess I have that look. But that's not the case. I'm fun-loving, carefree. I like to do stress-free activities. It's like self-therapy. Why am I going to go around and act like a (pain) when I'm not. I'm going to be myself. I guess I'm pretty random."

Except there's nothing random about his skills on the field. Any questions about Shiancoe's ability to become a highly productive tight end in the Vikings offense were answered last season. His seven touchdown catches were one shy of Joe Senser's team record by a tight end. His 42 receptions tied for second-most in team history by a tight end.

"It's just the tip of the iceberg of my capabilities," Shiancoe said. "I just want to see how far I can push myself."

Getting comfortable

Shiancoe's improvement is directly related to his comfort level with the offense. He better understands his role, enabling him to play faster and more instinctively.

"When you call a play, he doesn't have to think about what he's doing," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. "He can let his physical attributes take over."

Said coach Brad Childress: "Now we get to see some of the God-given athletic abilities that he has."

Shiancoe also is a tireless worker, often one on the last players to leave the practice field. He spends extra time working on pass-catching drills and conditioning.

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"It's almost like I'm going crazy when it comes to working because I know the results of my work and I know what it's going to do for me," he said.

Shiancoe said he feels faster and more explosive after spending the offseason working with his personal trainer. Mac James -- who operates Athletic Dominance, a performance training facility in Bowie, Md. -- also has trained other NFL players, including Chester Taylor, Brian Westbrook and Darnell Dockett.

Adding bricks

James' program this summer included a drill that required Shiancoe to run up a 30-yard hill carrying a 50-pound bag of sand.

"You can't pump your arms because you're carrying the sand so it's all leg drive," James said. "Shank always did a few extra sets because he wants to be the best."

Shiancoe also changed his diet, eliminating fatty foods. That helped him reduce his body fat and add muscle.

"Fat-free milk, fat-free this, fat-free that," he said. "I make these fat-free milk shakes that all my friends back home, grown men now, beg me to make them one. It tastes better than a regular milk shake."

He said all the changes come with a purpose: to build on what he's started, which in classic Shiancoe style, he compared to a construction project.

"I just want to keep on building and adding bricks onto my building," he said. "Every brick is worth something. There's never a brick that's not worthy."

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