With Moss gone, Vikings receivers in the spotlight

Posted Nov. 04, 2010, at 6:30 p.m.
Last modified Nov. 04, 2010, at 8:37 p.m.

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — After being barraged with questions about how, when and why he dumped Randy Moss, Brad Childress had finally reached the end of a long news conference.

So how will you compensate for Moss’s departure?

“We’ve got Hank Baskett, who has been inactive,” Childress replied. “We’ll elevate his turns and get him in the mix.”

Childress didn’t mean to oversimplify or overstate Baskett’s responsibility to replace Moss, but the uninspiring response gave Minnesota Vikings fans who want the coach fired another reason to fume. It’s not a knock on Baskett’s ability, but a player with only 1,098 yards over five NFL seasons can’t come close to matching what Moss brought.

Childress has his hands full with more than just the offense, given his seemingly tenuous status following the negative fallout of his decision to jettison Moss this week. Owner Zygi Wilf, who has been silent on the issue publicly, was at Winter Park this week and spoke to some players individually about the state of the team.

Asked whether this week has impacted his relationship with Wilf, Childress said, “Not as far as I’ve seen, but you’d have to ask him. It takes two to tango.”

The Vikings are back where they started last month before the ill-fated Moss trade, still waiting for Sidney Rice to return from hip surgery and forced to rely on a committee of wide receivers to help get the passing game going rather than one go-to guy for Brett Favre.

Percy Harvin has Pro Bowl talent and plenty of potential, but he’s more comfortable and effective in the slot with opposing secondaries focusing on a deep threat like Moss, Rice or Bernard Berrian.

Berrian has been next-to-nonexistent this season, with only nine catches in seven games. The rest of the group — Greg Camarillo, Greg Lewis and Baskett — are specific-role players who have not shown the skill to take over a game or threaten a defense.

“We know that there’s going to be a lot of eyes upon the receiving core now, but we’re not going to go out and change our practice. We’re not going to go out and change our game plan or anything like that,” Baskett said. “We’re going to go out and perform like everybody was doing before Randy got here, and we’ll do the same now that Randy’s gone.”

Harvin is recovering from a sprained left ankle, and he was held out of practice again Thursday.

“Not much progress,” Childress said.

If Harvin plays against Arizona on Sunday or later this season, he’s in for a challenge.

“It’s definitely going to get a little tougher as far as the double teams and the brackets,” Harvin said, lamenting the loss of Moss. “I’m sure we’re going to see a lot more of that coming up, but we’ve just got to game plan around that.”

Rice said he “felt great” running in his return to practice this week, but he acknowledged he still has soreness and tightness. Asked repeatedly about when he might reappear on the field for a game, Rice politely declined to declare a timetable and said he’ll be back simply when he’s “in great shape.”

“It’s a violent league, and I definitely want to be able to protect myself when I’m out there,” Rice said.

Rice said “most likely” and Childress said “most probably” when they were each asked separately if the Pro Bowl pick from last year has been ruled out for Sunday’s game against Arizona. Rice said he hasn’t had any setbacks since the surgery on Aug. 23.

When asked if he feels more urgency to return with Moss now gone, Rice shrugged that off, too.

“No pressure on me at all. I want to be back, just as I wanted to be back when Randy was here. It’s going to take a little time,” he said. “Got to get healthy and 100 percent when I’m out there.”

So who stretches the defense now? Even when Rice comes back, Childress said he probably won’t play 50 or 60 snaps per game like he often did last season.

“Bernard particularly has that capability, so we’ll expect him to step up,” Camarillo said.

Berrian was productive in 2008, his first with the Vikings, but he’s been a non-factor since. So is this the time for defenses to rediscover the deep threat he has the potential to be?

“That all depends on the play calling and what Brett does with the ball,” Berrian said. “All I can do is run routes and get open.”

Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has a full plate, too, trying to figure out the best way to distribute the responsibilities.

“We’ll find a way to do that,” Bevell said.

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