Thursday, November 05, 2009

Time To Bury Berrian?

In 2007, Bernard Berrian caught 71 passes for 951 and five touchdowns for the Chicago Bears. The numbers were not mind-blowing, but they did represent a solid upward trend for a young receiver playing in a run-first offense. For a Vikings' team in desperate need of papering over the Troy Williamson mistake, Berrian thus appeared a solid addition heading into the 2008 season.

The 2008 Vikings had offensive problems of their own, of course. Weighed down by the burden of an oppressive short-game scheme and lacking a quarterback capable of leading the team even to a first down, the Vikings' offense both begged for a deep-play threat and stood certain to frustrate such a threat. The result for Berrian was a respectable 48 receptions for 974 yards and seven touchdowns.

Remarkable in Berrian's first season in Minnesota was that, despite lingering hamstring issues and a modest catch total, he managed to improve on his 2007 yardage and touchdown figures, with some receptions perfectly demonstrating the break-away speed that the Vikings had hoped to gain when acquiring him.

With the addition of quarterback Brett Favre, things looked positively rosy for Berrian in 2009. Yet, through the first half of the season, the sixth-year wide receiver, who should be entering the prime of his career, has managed a mere 27 receptions for 299 yards and three touchdowns--slightly off of last year's pace, good for 45th in the league, and behind the pace of numerous rookies and second-year players playing in far less favorable circumstances.

Berrian's defenders have pointed to nagging injuries and a lack of timing with Favre as reasons for Berrian's slight 2009 numbers. But those justifications fall short in explaining how a receiver, seemingly equally injured last season, has failed to meet even the numbers posted by rookie counterpart, Percy Harvin.

Despite being listed as the third receiver on the team, suffering from his own injury issues, and having to adjust not only to a new quarterback, but also a new league, Harvin has managed 28 receptions for 369 yards and three touchdowns this season. For good measure, he has contributed 860 yards in kickoff returns with a 30.7 yards-per-return average and two touchdowns--the first Viking in team history to accomplish the latter feat.

Far more glaring than the line-by-line comparison between Harvin and Berrian is Harvin's upward trend and Berrian's apparent regression and disinterest. Against the Packers at Lambeau field, Harvin had 260 total yards and a touchdown. Though Berrian did find the endzone, his numbers--three receptions for forty-seven yards--resembled, more, those of a mid-tier tight end than of a high-end, highly paid speed receiver.

More disconcerting than Berrian's numbers, however, has been his poor execution on the field. Whether due to lack of preparation or some other malady, it is clear that Berrian is not playing with the same degree of commitment as are others on the team. And when, for the twentieth or so time this season, Berrian gave up on a deep route, despite single-man coverage, or turned in when he should have turned out, one has to wonder whether it is not time to replace Berrian with any other breathing receiver on the team and to make certain that, in two-receiver sets, Harvin and Rice, rather than Berrian and Rice, are the duo on the field.

At least some of Berrian's issues presumably are related to his hamstring problems rather than to his inability to make the adjustments to playing with Favre that every other receiver on the team appeared able to make in game one of the season. But, if injuries are the culprit, given that Berrian has been plagued by the same injury his entire career--one of Chicago's primary considerations in allowing their only tested receiver to walk in 2008--it might be time for Minnesota to begin considering their future at wide receiver.

Barring injury or an uncapped season, Rice and Harvin will be part of the Vikings' wide-receiver equation for several years to come. But with Rice a sideline target of less-than-blazing speed and Harvin a better fit in the slot and out of the backfield, the Vikings need a dependable deep threat. If that's not going to be Berrian, the Vikings will have numerous alternatives in the 2010 free-agent market--perhaps the best ever for wide receivers.

Assuming that no team is foolish enough to apply the franchise tag to a wide-receiver, Antonio Bryant, Lee Evans, Vincent Jackson, Michael Jenkins, and Hines Ward will be available as unrestricted free agents in 2010. All but Ward fit the Vikings' need for a burner with hands and, despite his age and lesser speed, even Ward seems, somehow, to measure up with his speedier brethren. Should Favre return in 2010, the offensive possibilities for the Vikings would be absolutely salivating.

Up Next: Coaches on the Way Out. Plus, is this the AP that we should expect for the remainder of the season?

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