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Updated: August 24th, 2010 7:23pm
Pelissero: Losing Rice 'a considerable blow' no one player can offset

Pelissero: Losing Rice 'a considerable blow' no one player can offset

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by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Percy Harvin is explosive but isn't a detailed route-runner.

Bernard Berrian and Greg Lewis have vertical speed but don't contest physically for balls down the field.

Newly signed Javon Walker still has hands but can't separate deep and can't be trusted because of chronic injuries.

This is why the loss of Sidney Rice hurts so badly for the Minnesota Vikings.

"You could play him inside, outside," a high-ranking scout for an AFC team said on Tuesday, a day after Rice underwent hip surgery that's expected to sideline him eight weeks or more.

"He can catch the ball deep. He can catch it short. He can catch it on the run."

In short, there are no "buts" about Rice's game. He's the Vikings' most fully dimensional receiver, not to mention Brett Favre's favorite target.

If any contender can overcome the loss of a No. 1 receiver, it's a team with an All-Pro running back and one of the NFL's top defenses.

That doesn't mean there aren't tense days ahead for a team that must figure out, little more than two weeks from the opener, how to cover in both scheme and personnel for the absence of a unique playmaker.

"It's a considerable blow," an NFC scout said. "But you know the saying -- one man's injury is another man's opportunity."

The opportunity starts with Adrian Peterson, who is over his hamstring problem and likely will be asked to carry a heavy load until the passing game gets up to speed.

It also starts with Harvin, assuming his second season isn't derailed altogether by the migraines that have sidelined him for the better part of a month -- costing him valuable reps after he skipped voluntary offseason practices.

"You still have to be creative in terms of getting the ball in Percy Harvin's hands," the AFC scout said. "You can't expect for Percy Harvin to go out there and run the route tree and the route content that Sidney Rice did."

Most directly, it starts with Berrian, who was nicked up last season but showed in the NFC championship game (nine catches, 102 yards) he still is a starting-caliber receiver.

"You're going to have to spread out those touches and catches and plays that Sidney Rice makes through the running game and through the manufacturing of plays that they do with Percy Harvin," the AFC scout said.

"Maybe Bernard Berrian takes another step here and does some of those things down the field in terms of the vertical speed and stretching the field. But when you had that on both sides of the field -- now you don't necessarily have that.

"It's just one less worry for a defensive coordinator, where they can put the focus and onus on something else rather than having to remain balanced and having to remain honest."

Walker might end up being an X-factor or a nonfactor. He's broken down so often over the past three seasons it's easy to forget he was among the NFL's top wideouts in 2004 and a 1,000-yard receiver again in '06.

"Does that all disappear? No," the NFC scout said. "He can still catch the football and make some plays, but at what level of consistency would be the big question."

That, and whether Walker's knees -- the main reason he's played in only 19 games since signing his doomed megadeal with the Oakland Raiders in 2007 -- will fail him again.

The 31-year-old on Tuesday said he feels like he's 23 again and is as fast as ever, but the tape tells a different story.

"The injuries have just taken away a bit of his explosiveness and his deep speed," the AFC scout said of Walker. "Now, he's kind of relegated to more of a short-to-intermediate, possessional-type guy. Naturally, with the injury history, even though he may currently be healthy, it's just an alarm to the durability factor."

Lewis would be the No. 3 receiver if the season started today, but there's a reason he's caught more than 24 balls just once in seven NFL seasons.

Hard-nosed Logan Payne has been next in line but is a borderline slot guy with a low ceiling.

None of the other four receivers on the roster belong on a 53-man roster.

This isn't about the bottom of the roster, though. Those players rarely make or break a Super Bowl push.

It's about overcoming -- replacing is impossible -- the loss of a true No. 1 receiver who can stretch the field in every direction and racked up 93 catches for 1,496 yards and 12 touchdowns in his breakout 2009 season.

"Somebody's going to get that production," the NFC scout said. "Now, where does it come from? That's the almighty question.

"It's a bump, there's no doubt, because you're talking about a guy that had over 1,000 yards, went to the Pro Bowl last year -- really was Brett's go-to guy. But again, in this league, those stories happen every year. There's going to be that next guy that will elevate himself up."

Peterson, Harvin and Berrian all will have their chances.

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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