Vikings place hopes in hands of rookie wideout Rice

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Another receiver from South Carolina?

That's what many Vikings fans were nervously wondering on draft day when Minnesota selected Sidney Rice in the second round. Former Gamecock Troy Williamson's first two years in purple had been a massive disappointment, so Rice came to training camp with many a skeptical eye cast his way.

It hasn't taken long for Rice to show he may be different.

He was the second-leading receiver for the Vikings in the preseason, with eight catches for 53 yards and a touchdown. Rice may only be a rookie playing a position that typically takes a few years to learn, but he has already shown a playmaking ability lacking in the rest of a nondescript receiver corps.

"He's been able to come in and work with the ones in a three-receiver set and make plays and show things that rookies really aren't inclined to show as early as he's shown them," veteran receiver Bobby Wade said.

It's good news for the Vikings, who need all the help they can get as they enter the 2007 season with inexperienced quarterback Tarvaris Jackson at the helm.

"He's a tough nut, and he's just going to get better and better," coach Brad Childress said after Rice made several nice plays in the preseason finale against Dallas. "I think he's going to be 21 (years old) here in the next couple of days, so when he grows up, he has a chance to be a good player."

Many receivers can take as long as three years to get acclimated to the more complicated, faster-paced pro game, where reading coverages and modifying routes on the fly are paramount to success.

Then there are guys like Williamson, who simply have trouble catching the ball. He dropped 11 passes last season, which prevented him from taking advantage of the world-class speed that made him the No. 7 overall draft pick in 2005.

While Williamson had 91 catches for 1,753 yards and 13 TDs in three years playing for run-oriented Lou Holtz, Rice benefited from Steve Spurrier's hiring. He caught 142 passes for 2,233 yards and 23 touchdowns in just two seasons of the "Fun-n-Gun."

Since he has arrived in Minnesota, everything seems to be coming more naturally for Rice.

"It's just exciting to see him come in and pick up the offense so fast and make very few mistakes," Jackson said. "For this offense to work it can be complicated. But he's picked up pretty fast and done a great job."

His best game of the summer came on Thursday against the Cowboys, when he showed the kind of body control and field awareness uncommon among rookies.

Getting the start for Wade, who was held out for precautionary reasons with an ankle injury, Rice made sure Jackson didn't go three-and-out on his only series of the game.

On third-and-8 from the Vikings 23, Rice dragged his feet for a nifty catch on the sideline that gained 13 yards and a first down.

In the second quarter, Rice made an acrobatic leaping catch in the back of the end zone for a 4-yard TD from Brooks Bollinger.

Painfully shy in public, Rice has shown plenty of maturity at a young age. He didn't even keep the ball from his first touchdown.

"No need," Rice said. "I'll wait for the real thing."

That performance, along with the rest of training camp, has given Childress the confidence to let him play right away, starting with the opener on Sunday against Atlanta.

"He'll bow up and he'll fight you, and like I said, he's a tough guy," Childress said. "He's never run as much as he's run in this training camp, but he'll be glad to go to these one-a-days and get ready for an opponent."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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