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Updated: August 6th, 2011 11:44am
Michael Jenkins flashing speed, sure hands as WR spots get sorted out

Michael Jenkins flashing speed, sure hands as WR spots get sorted out

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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MANKATO, Minn. -- The numbers don't indicate Michael Jenkins is a deep threat.

In seven NFL seasons, his per-catch average is 12.7 yards, and he's never even had a 100-yard game.

But look beyond the 6-foot-4, 214-pound frame for a moment. Watch him glide past Chris Cook for an 80-yard touchdown in practice.

Then reassess whether this is a prototypical possession receiver or the rare player who could show some new skills at age 29, if given the right opportunity.

"He's a long guy and he takes those long strides, so it doesn't look like he's covering that much ground, and then all of a sudden you see him behind someone," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "It was the same way when he was coming out of college. He was a sub-4.5, 4.4 guy. He can run."

At his Ohio State pro day in 2004, Jenkins was timed as low as 4.42 seconds -- intriguing speed for a player his size.

The Atlanta Falcons drafted him 29th overall and made him a starter in his second season. From 2005 to '09, Jenkins caught 228 passes for 2,888 yards (12.7 average) and 18 touchdowns.

"He's a solid player," said Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, the Falcons' quarterbacks coach from 2006 to '10. "He's accountable. You get his best every day."

But Jenkins primarily was used on short to intermediate routes -- in-cuts, quick outs, etc. -- his receiving production waned last season (41 catches, 505 yards, 12.3 average, two touchdowns) and the Falcons dumped him in a cost-saving move on July 29.

The next day, the Vikings agreed to a three-year contract with Jenkins, who already knew the nuts of Musgrave's offense from their days with the Falcons and was drafted when receivers coach George Stewart also was in Atlanta.

"I'm excited," Jenkins said. "I'm up to the challenge, looking to make plays down the field and just take advantage of that opportunity to help this offense be an elite offense in this league."

Jenkins isn't a particularly sudden player. He doesn't explode in and out of breaks like Percy Harvin or accelerate off the line like Bernard Berrian.

In only a couple days of training camp, though, Jenkins has stood out both for catching everything near him and flashing that "long" speed on plays such as the one that beat Cook on the opening play of 11-on-11 drills on Friday afternoon.

"He's fast at the top end," Musgrave said. "He has the size to go up and get it. Both of those guys -- even though they are getting a little long in the tooth, between he 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."

Advance knowledge of Musgrave's offense is another plus for Jenkins, who figures to back up all four receiver spots. Berrian is the split end and Harvin the flanker in the Vikings' base offense, but Jenkins has worked extensively with the starting offense in camp when they've gone three- and four-wide.

The Vikings wanted to retain Sidney Rice before he signed a big deal with Seattle and showed interest in several other free agents, including James Jones, Braylon Edwards and Malcom Floyd. Yet after restructuring Berrian's deal for salary-cap purposes and signing Jenkins, the Vikings actually appear to have some depth, at least when it comes to filling out the 53-man roster.

Jaymar Johnson, who spent last season on injured reserve with a broken thumb, has been among the impressive players in camp. He's in what appears to be a six-way competition for two spots against Greg Camarillo, Devin Aromashodu, Emmanuel Arceneaux, Juaquin Iglesias and seventh-round draft pick Stephen Burton, who has struggled so far.

"We expect to keep five wide receivers, and that's usually what you do," Frazier said. "It's going to be a hotly contested position throughout this camp and throughout the preseason, and I think we have some solid candidates to choose from. We're probably going to end up having to release a very good football player."

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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