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Updated: October 31st, 2012 4:11pm
Finally healthy, Sidney Rice is looking forward to facing his ex-team

Finally healthy, Sidney Rice is looking forward to facing his ex-team

by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- After two injury-filled seasons, wide receiver Sidney Rice is healthy, happy and looking forward to facing his former Minnesota Vikings teammates on Sunday in Seattle.

"It's going to be exciting going against those guys," said Rice, who is in his second season with the Seahawks. "I looked at the scouting report today, and I counted out (that) nine of the 11 starters on defense (were guys) that I played with while I was there.

"It's going to be fun, and I know how those guys play. Lots of smart, athletic guys over there on that side of the ball. So us as receivers, we have to be ready."

Rice was a standout for the Vikings during their run to the NFC title game in 2009, leading the team with 83 receptions for 1,312 yards and eight touchdowns.

But hip surgery in 2010 limited him to six games in which he caught only 17 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns. The Vikings record fell to 6-10. Rice then left as a free agent to sign a five-year, $41 million deal with Seattle that included $18.5 million in guarantees.

Rice did not give the Seahawks much of a return in 2011. He caught only 28 passes for 367 yards and three touchdowns in eight games because of various injuries. The problems began in training camp when he suffered a torn labrum in his right shoulder.

Rice played through the pain wearing a harness. He also suffered a foot injury but that did not end his season. What did land him on injured reserve was a second concussion he suffered in a three-week period.

Rice underwent surgery on his right shoulder last January and six weeks later had surgery to repair a tear in the labrum of his left shoulder that had been an issue since he was playing in college.

All of this might have caused the Seahawks to question the guaranteed money they paid Rice. In his first five years, he played in all 16 games only once (2009). But so far this season he has been healthy and productive. 

Rice has caught a team-leading 28 passes for 367 yards and three touchdowns.

"It's great," Rice said when asked about finally being healthy. "(It's) the best I've felt in a while, besides a couple little nagging injuries. But it's nothing serious. My body's feeling real well, just happy to be back out on the field, able to go every game."

The highlight for Rice this season might have come in the Seahawks' 24-23 victory over New England on Oct. 14 at CenturyLink Field. Seattle, which trailed 23-10 midway through the fourth quarter, completed its comeback when rookie quarterback Russell Wilson found Rice on a 46-yard scoring pass with 1:18 left.

It was the type of down-the-field play that Rice and former Vikings quarterback Brett Favre connected on so often during the 2009 season. Rice said he "definitely" feels as if he's back to that 2009 form.

"We started off a little slow in the passing game throughout the year, mainly due to our explosive running game with Marshawn (Lynch) back there - he's doing a really great job," Rice said. "And our offensive line is blocking real well for them. So the last few weeks we've been sprinkling in the passes, and getting our pass game going. So, hopefully, we can combine the two together and keep things moving from there."

Rice could be going to Seattle this weekend as a member of the Vikings if he had decided to remain with the franchise that drafted him in the second round in 2007 out of South Carolina. The Vikings were interested in retaining Rice, even though the organization and player did not necessarily see eye-to-eye on how his hip injury was handled.

When healthy, the 6-foot-4, 202-pound Rice provides the type of vertical threat the Vikings need.

"They made a strong effort to keep me there," Rice said. "I talked to coach (Leslie) Frazier a few times throughout the process, and (wide receivers) coach (George) Stewart as well. We just couldn't come to the terms and I decided to choose Seattle. I had an offensive coordinator I had been with for the previous four years. Knew the playbook, and that was one of the big reasons."

Darrell Bevell, who served as the Vikings' offensive coordinator for five years under Brad Childress, wasn't retained by the Vikings after Frazier took over as coach following the 2010 season. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll brought Bevell to Seattle.

Carroll is the second NFL coach that Rice has played for in his career. Childress was the other. Safe to say, the two are very different in their style.

"I would say Coach Childress was a more straightforward serious guy about everything and Pete is kind of the opposite," Rice said. "I wouldn't say he's not serious ... he's an energetic guy and he's the same way no matter what's happening. He wants to encourage everybody, let you know what you do wrong and just encourage you to get things right and keep going."

Rice said he still talks to a few of his former teammates, including running back Adrian Peterson. Peterson was taken in the first round in 2007. On Tuesday, Rice had discussions with Vikings safety Jamarca Sanford and linebacker Jasper Brinkley.

Sanford said the two had a good natured back-and-forth about Sunday's game, but made it clear he is glad to see his former teammate doing well again.

"It feels good to see my friend back out there," he said. "Doing what he does best and making plays. I know what he can do when he's healthy and you never want to see a guy hurt and get taken from what he loves to do. He's happy to be back out there and he looks forward to the challenge of going against us and we look forward to it, too. It's going to be a lot of fun."

As for his memories of Minnesota, Rice said: "I had a wonderful time when I was there. A lot of great teammates, a lot of the guys that I still talk to and the coaches as well. I had a great four years. I enjoyed every minute of it and it's going to be fun matching up with those guys and seeing those guys play on the same field this weekend." 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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