Pelissero: Rookie tight end Mickey Shuler's out to prove he can do it all
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Some of Mickey Shuler's earliest memories involve being handed over railings at various NFL stadiums to his father, Mickey Sr., a two-time Pro Bowl tight end who would take his young son into the locker room.
On other days, little Mickey would wander next door and ask to see his friend, then-Philadelphia Eagles center Dave Alexander, who would oblige unless his wife -- whom Shuler believed was actually Alexander's mom -- said he couldn't come out and play.
As Shuler got older, Mickey Sr. taught him everything he knows about playing tight end, and son eventually followed father's path to Penn State.
And it was no coincidence when Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress -- explaining the team's decision to draft Shuler in seventh round (214th overall) in last month's NFL Draft -- more than once cited Shuler's "pedigree."
But these aren't tales told to illustrate the ascent of a player whose name provided a smooth path to the NFL. Far from it.
There was the car accident when Shuler was in the sixth grade that left him with 200 stitches in his face and cost him a year of football.
There was the lack of scholarship offers he received out of East Pennsboro (Pa.) High School before Joe Paterno came calling late in the recruiting season.
There was the abbreviated move to fullback that exiled Shuler -- who had reported to campus a year earlier at only 214 pounds -- to a redshirt freshman season on the scout team.
And there were the three years ahead in which classmate Andrew Quarless got second chance after second chance despite his off-the-field issues, while Shuler kept his nose clean and scuffled to get snaps, much less receiving opportunities.
Drafted in the fifth round by the Green Bay Packers, Quarless finished his college career with 87 catches, eight touchdowns and three run-ins with the law that led to suspensions. Shuler had 27, four and none.
"After the draft, I texted him, he texted me -- we still communicate once in awhile," Shuler said by phone this week. "No hard feelings -- it's not either of our faults that we were both there."
But there's no question Shuler feels he's about to get the chance he never had in college to prove he's more than just a blocker.
His father caught 462 balls for 5,100 yards and 37 touchdowns over 14 NFL seasons with the New York Jets and Philadelphia, and Shuler says that aspect of his game always has come more natural to him.
Not invited to the NFL's scouting combine, Shuler moved for about two months to Florida to polish his receiving skills at Athletes Performance Institute, where he caught balls from No. 1 draft pick Sam Bradford and Dan LeFevour.
"My dad said I looked the smoothest running routes that he's ever seen me coming from there," Shuler said.
Then, he put up such impressive numbers at his campus workout in mid-March -- he would have ranked among the combine's top tight ends in the 40-yard dash (4.62 seconds), vertical jump (37½ inches) and bench press (28 reps), among other tests -- more than one team took notice.
"He's got the bloodlines and he's a tough, tenacious kid," said the personnel director for an AFC team that considered Shuler in the late rounds.
"Not a lot of production at Penn State, but he's got tenacity and got pretty decent size to him."
When Shuler (6-4, 247) did run patterns in college, the routes were elementary -- a naked, a cross, the occasional stick route. But he appeared perfectly comfortable in the Vikings' offense on Wednesday, making a couple of tricky catches in traffic during the team's second organized team activity practice.
The roster sets up well for Shuler to make a push for the final 53. Visanthe Shiancoe is the established starter and a receiving threat, but blocking specialist Jim Kleinsasser isn't getting younger at age 33, Jeff Dugan is seeing the bulk of his action at fullback and Garrett Mills has gotten into only nine games over four NFL seasons.
Motivation -- to live up to his name, make up for the chances he didn't get in college, outshine Quarless and prove there's still room in the NFL for the balanced tight end his father was -- shouldn't be a problem.
"It's funny, because you've come so far from high school and college and you're almost at the top, and now you're kind of down in the valley," Shuler said. "You're at the bottom of the mountain again and you've got to climb back up and get to the summit.
"I do believe I can play in the NFL. I think I will have a good career and get an opportunity here -- and it's gonna pan out better than college."