Vikings Insider: Team expects Shiancoe to leave past far behind
The Vikings and their new tight end, a career backup with the Giants, believe he can put up solid statistics.
By Kevin Seifert, Star Tribune
Last update: August 04, 2007 – 11:22 PM
MANKATO — Visanthe Shiancoe knows there are names easier to pronounce than "vi-sahn-tee SHANK-oh." So upon introduction the other day, Shiancoe simplified things a bit.
"Just call me Shank-dog," he said with a smile.
If only everything else about Shiancoe's arrival in Minnesota were so straightforward.
Determined to add playmakers to their offense, the Vikings targeted Shiancoe — a relatively unknown backup tight end for the New York Giants — as their top offseason priority. On the second day of free agency, the Vikings guaranteed $8.2 million to a player who has never caught more than three passes in a game and hasn't scored a touchdown since Jan. 2, 2005.
Vikings coach Brad Childress compares Shiancoe to tailback Chester Taylor, a career backup with the Baltimore Ravens before the Vikings signed him on the first day of free agency. Taylor nearly doubled his career rushing totals in 2006, and the Vikings believe Shiancoe — who has turned in a mixed performance in training camp, apparently because of a strained quadriceps — can do the same.
Shiancoe caught 35 passes in four seasons with the Giants, but those receptions were clustered in 22 games. Considered another way, Shiancoe has gone without a catch in 66 percent of his appearances.
In the absence of past production, Childress said, "You just have to look at the skills and abilities and make sure that he has the tools you are looking for."
To be sure, Shiancoe has all of the measurables: a 40-yard dash time of 4.5 seconds, soft hands and a 250-pound frame that enables him to hold his own as a blocker.
The fairest way to assess Shiancoe's first few months with the Vikings, during spring drills and now through 10 days of training camp, is that his adjustment is a work in progress. He dropped more than his share of passes during the spring, perhaps distracted by the installation of a new offense, and did not appear as fast as advertised during the early days of training camp.
A strained quadriceps was the likely culprit, according to Childress, and Shiancoe flashed later in the week by outrunning speedy linebacker Dontarrious Thomas for a pass.
"In this offense," Shiancoe said, "a tight end should be eager to make whatever adjustment you have to make. You get the ball a lot. The tight ends are very involved in this offense. I think I can make some very, very big plays here. That's the reason I came. I can make a lot of plays."
Vikings tight ends caught 59 passes last season, but they averaged 8 yards per reception and none went for longer than 24 yards. Yet there are many examples of highly productive tight ends in the West Coast offense, from San Francisco's Brent Jones to Denver's Shannon Sharpe to Philadelphia's L.J. Smith, and the Vikings want Shiancoe to be next on that list.
Jones averaged 12.5 yards per reception in his career, including six seasons with at least 40 catches. Sharpe averaged 12.3 yards per catch, including seven seasons with Denver of at least 60 receptions, and Smith has caught 111 passes for the Eagles during the past two seasons for an 11.6-yard average.
"I'm going to put up some pretty solid numbers," Shiancoe said, his head nodding confidently. "That's what I will say. Very solid numbers. Very high numbers."
Shiancoe's exact production remains to be seen, and the Vikings' shortage of proven receivers could allow defenses to devote more attention to him. He would represent a huge disappointment, however, if he does not beat his career high for receptions in a season — 25 as a senior at Division I-AA Morgan State.
Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said the Vikings are not so much looking to Shiancoe for game-changing plays as they are for him to be a consistent target who can get them 11 yards on third-and-6.
"We're still learning about him," Bevell said. "You would like to get big plays down the field. Not necessarily the 40- or 50-yard plays, but the ones that are getting first downs for you."
To which the Vikings would say, "Shank" you very much.