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Vikings Corner: Shiancoe a big part of playoff run

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2007 was an important year on the Minnesota Vikings' road to the NFC championship game in New Orleans this weekend.

Adrian Peterson and Sidney Rice were their first two draft choices and in free agency, the Vikings brought in tight end Visanthe Shiancoe.

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Unhappy with his use by the New York Giants, Shiancoe sought a fresh start.

A third-round draft choice in 2003, he mostly played a back-up role to Jeremy Shockey. Confident he could be a game breaker, Shiancoe was unhappy with his lack of playing time and sought an offense that would help showcase his skills.

Second-year coach Brad Childress needed a pass-catching tight end that would provide an underneath option for his west-coast offense. Expectations were high on both sides, but Shiancoe's relationship with the Vikings got off to a rocky start.

He started 15 games that year and finished with 27 receptions, more than double that of any other season, but he was known more for the passes he did not catch.

Shiancoe had trouble catching the ball consistently, but the Vikings already had a receiver who couldn't hold on to the football in Troy Williamson, they could not afford another.

"Sometimes it takes a little time to acclimate to a new environment, a new playbook," said Shiancoe. "Everything was new to me, so after I found my niche, or comfort zone, that's when I started playing better. I just had to find my comfort zone."

It wasn't just a new system though. Shiancoe and the rest of the receivers just couldn't hang on to the ball; it's a big reason why Tarvaris Jackson struggled so much at quarterback. His receivers couldn't help bail him out.

"You've got to work on what you can't do," Shiancoe said. "You have to keep working on it, so that's what I did. If something is not right you fix it. When your tire is flat, you can change the tire right? Alright, my tire was flat and I changed the damn tire."

His persistence paid off, he and Sidney Rice are the only receivers left from that 2007 team and Shiancoe's circus catches have become commonplace.

Catching balls thrown from a 40-year-old quarterback Shiancoe enjoyed a career year, with his best game coming against his former team.

With seven catches, 94 yards and a touchdown he finished the season with a career-best 56 receptions and his 11 scores broke the team record for touchdowns by a tight end. Joe Sensor set the previous mark in 1981 with eight.

Shiancoe, second among NFL tight ends in touchdown receptions was especially important in the red zone, where he was Brett Favre's favorite target.

"There have been some guys who have really broken out and made a name for themselves," said Favre after the victory over the Cowboys. "No doubt they have helped me. For example the touchdown to Shank, he only had the one catch, but it was a great catch."

No longer a back up, Visanthe will have a chance to show up his former teammate, Saints tight end Jeremy Shockey. Is that added motivation?

"He may not be 100 percent," Visanthe remarked Sunday. "But he still plays on a high level. I just hope he doesn't play at a high level next weekend."

It's easy to forget that Shiancoe hasn't always been so reliable. The Saints will be hoping he stays behind Shockey again.

TJ Melcher can be heard on KBUN-AM1450.

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