|5 years in, Wade finally gets big chance at WR|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 23 August 2007 09:19|
Yet on the Minnesota Vikings youthful receiver corps, that's enough to make him a mentor.
Call him Obi-Wade.
``It's a little different coming in and being a veteran guy and playing in that position, but it's nothing I shy away from,'' said Wade, who signed with the Vikings after spending last year in Tennessee. ``I think this group responds well to their peers and how we work as a group on the field is kind of contagious and kind of spreads.''
After jettisoning veterans Marcus Robinson and Travis Taylor from last year's team, the Vikings entered the offseason with a dire need for experience and reliability at receiver to help young quarterback Tarvaris Jackson.
They made a strong push for Kevin Curtis, but lost him to Philadelphia. So they went with Wade, whose career best day came last November against the Giants when he caught six passes for 83 yards.
But coach Brad Childress said he liked Wade's hands - Vikings receivers struggled mightily with drops last season - and versatility, envisioning the him playing in the slot and outside.
``He can play outside. He can play inside,'' Childress said. ``Not everybody can play inside in that slot and have a feel for working the middle of the field, and I think he has that.''
Wade showed that much in his Vikings preseason debut against St. Louis, catching two short passes near the sideline in the first quarter that he was able to turn into 21-yard gains by juking defenders and scooting forward.
Perhaps more importantly, he has been a steadying influence that Minnesota's young receivers need right now.
Troy Williamson has been a disappointment in his first two seasons in the league, showing a troubling penchant for drops and a complete lack of confidence; Billy McMullen has 45 catches in 45 games in four seasons; and rookies Sidney Rice, Aundrae Allison and Chandler Williams are just that - rookies.
``He's been a tremendous help,'' Rice said. ``Any questions I have about a position, he always answers them. He lets me know when I'm doing something wrong and also when I'm doing something right. It's a real big plus having somebody like that in our group.''
The Vikings added former Green Bay receiver Robert Ferguson this week for a little more seasoning, but Wade has been the spokesman for the group through training camp.
``He has great work ethic and great leadership with the young guys,'' offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. ``He's played. Guys know that he's played. He's done a nice job when he has been in there so they already respect him as a player.
``He was able to come in here quickly and kind of take over that leadership role, which was lacking at the position and he was able to help out right away.''
Of course, Wade will have to put up numbers in the regular season if he is going to justify that leadership role. Unless Williamson's hands catch up to his speed and athleticism, Wade could be the No. 1 receiver for the first time in his professional life.
``That all shakes down to opportunities, and it's hard to really get a good grasp on that right now without playing a real game against a real opponent,'' said Wade, who left Arizona as the college's career leader in receptions and yards. ``All I can do when my number is called is just step up to the plate and just capitalize on that opportunity.''
He also could be relied upon to return punts, as he did in his final season in Chicago, often with disastrous results. The Bears released Wade late in 2005 after he either fumbled or muffed nine punts.
``You struggle trying to get a handle of things and trying to be consistent and that's what it's about,'' Wade said. ``So that's what I needed to do, and that's where I'm at now.''
The 5-foot-10 Wade is built more like a punt returner than the prototypical No. 1 receiver and would love a chance to show what he can do on special teams.
``Absolutely,'' Wade said. ``I have a passion to return punts and kicks, and however that pans out, I'm willing to do (that) at every opportunity.''
AP Sports Writer Dave Campbell contributed to this story.