EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — Here’s a little-known piece of background on wide receiver Michael Jenkins: He picked up bowling as a hobby in college.
Familiar faces — and a playbook he’s comfortable with — have helped Jenkins get that metaphorical ball rolling in Minnesota more quickly. The transition to a new team for Jenkins hasn’t been as awkward or difficult as it can be for a guy trying to grasp a new scheme, and there are a couple of reasons.
“It’s a big help from me on the learning curve,” said Jenkins, who joined the Vikings a few weeks ago after he was cut by the Atlanta Falcons to clear room under the salary cap.
Vikings wide receivers coach George Stewart held that job with the Falcons during Jenkins’ first three years in the league, 2004 to 2006. Bill Musgrave, hired this year by the Vikings to be their offensive coordinator, was the quarterbacks coach for the Falcons from 2006 to 2010.
“We’re excited, because he knows our system a little bit better than everybody else,” Musgrave said.
Familiarity was an even stronger force in the post-lockout chaos that was NFL free agency last month.
Without the usual spring and summer practice time to pick up a new system, let alone become proficient in it, going to a place where the responsibilities are similar and the playbook terminology isn’t like a foreign language was just as attractive to many players as top money, contract length and playing time opportunity.
Ex-Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson and wide receiver Sidney Rice chose Seattle, where offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell had already arrived after being let go by Minnesota. Wide receiver Roy Williams went to Chicago, where offensive coordinator Mike Martz has installed the system Williams ran under Martz with Detroit in 2006-07.
So for Jenkins, this is a fresh start, with the extra benefit of institutional knowledge.
“This is a good opportunity for me to still go out and show what I have left,” Jenkins said. “I’m excited about helping this football team win ballgames.”
Drafted in the first round out of Ohio State, Jenkins has never come close to a 1,000-yard season and has only 20 touchdowns over seven seasons. He was overshadowed in the Falcons’ passing attack by Roddy White, an All-Pro pick last year, and even tight end Alge Crumpler earlier in his career. Stewart said Jenkins came out of college with a 4.38-second time in the 40-yard dash, though these days his game is fueled more on “deceptive speed,” as Jenkins put it.
He’s 6-foot-4 with long strides, strong hands, and an ability to make tough catches in traffic and block in the running game. He has brought an attitude, too, impressing coach Leslie Frazier.
The loss of Rice will hurt the Vikings, even though his hip injury essentially ruined his 2010 season. But they still have Percy Harvin’s speed and strength underneath and even out of the backfield, the deep-threat speed of Bernard Berrian, who is trying to bounce back from consecutive seasons of minimal production and a disconnection with Brett Favre, and the sure hands of Greg Camarillo. Jenkins appears to be the right kind of player to add to the group.
“He works extremely hard. He’s always prepared. He knows this offense very well, so that’s a plus for the rest of our guys who can come up and ask him questions,” Frazier said Monday. “But just his professionalism is the one thing that sticks out to me, his attention to detail and how much he wants to be good. That’s a good thing for a veteran receiver.”
Jenkins said he considers himself a professional off the field, too — namely at the alley. He started bowling on a weekly basis at Ohio State and in Atlanta he even joined a Tuesday night league.
“Got my own bag, ball, shoes,” he said, smiling.
He’s already found a lane with the Vikings. They’re counting on more than a few strikes from him, too.
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