Pelissero: Ex-Gophers WR Logan Payne giving himself a chance
Get the 1500 ESPN SportsWire delivered to your inbox daily, and keep up with all the news in Twin Cities Sports
MANKATO, Minn. -- It's been more than three years, four NFL teams and plenty of letdowns since Logan Payne left the University of Minnesota, but he hasn't come close to giving up.
There were stints on the Seattle Seahawks' active roster in 2007 and '08, the latter ending with a knee injury in his second NFL game.
There was the abbreviated return to Seattle's practice squad last season. Four days with the Detroit Lions. A week or so with the Kansas City Chiefs.
It took a rookie-camp tryout for Payne to get a one-year minimum deal with the Minnesota Vikings in May. But the plays the 25-year-old receiver has made on a nearly every-practice basis from organized team activities through the first week of training camp suggest his persistence just might pay off this time.
"It's been a fight," Payne said on Thursday. "I relish it, though. I relish the challenge. I relish coming out here and being low on the depth chart and coming out here and trying to surprise people and prove myself."
Payne reported to Mankato with a bulked-up 210 pounds on his 6-foot-2 frame, hoping the extra weight will keep him from getting tossed around on special teams.
He also says he's faster than he's ever been, pointing to a 40-yard dash he claims to have run in 4.35 seconds during a recent training session in Tampa, Fla.
That's where Payne was working out to prepare for his next NFL shot, catching balls from an accomplished group of passers including former Florida State quarterback Drew Weatherford.
And it's all shown up on the practice field, where Payne has been more productive and consistent in the passing game than any of the other players vying for the Vikings' No. 5 receiver job.
"Logan is a crafty pro," receivers coach George Stewart said. "Logan's a guy that's a hard worker, he makes plays, and it's very exciting to see him grow."
Take Thursday morning, when Payne got teammates roaring by shaking cornerback Asher Allen with a nasty double move and then coming down with a tough catch in the corner of the end zone.
"I didn't have to take a couple practices to get going again," Payne said. "I came here and got shot out of a cannon."
This fight is far from over, though -- and if the season started today, Payne most likely would be on the street again.
The absences of Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin have pushed Berrian and Lewis to the front lines, but the three-wide opportunities with the starters have gone to Jaymar Johnson and occasionally Taye Biddle.
No. 5 receivers have to be core special teamers, too, and Payne has yet to get a look on any of the starting units.
"That fifth receiver has to be your utility guy," Stewart said. "He has to be an outstanding special-teams player. He has to be able to come in and block in the run game. He has to be able to be that guy that knows all positions and knows the intricate details of all positions."
After starting camp as strictly an "X" receiver, Payne has seen more and more time at the other spots. And his extensive experience in the West Coast offense with Seattle gives him a conceptual advantage over the likes of Biddle, Marko Mitchell and rookies Marquis Hamilton and Ray Small.
Johnson has two years in the system, and coaches remain intrigued his speed and athletic ability. But with every pass Johnson drops -- and there have been more than a couple here -- Payne's ability to catch everything thrown his way makes him seem more and more like the guy the Vikings would need if Rice, Harvin or someone else misses time in the regular season.
In a battle that probably will be decided in the preseason -- "It tells you the pretender from the contender," Stewart said, "the imposter from the guy that's real" -- Payne has done well at least to put himself in coaches' minds.
"I can still play at a very high level, and that's kind of the way I've approached it," Payne said. "I'm a really good player -- I've just got to keep fighting. Don't give them a choice. Just make them give me an opportunity, and when I get the opportunity, make something happen."