Last season it appeared the wheels were coming off for Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe.
After a disappointing 2007 season in which he only caught 27 passes for 323 yards and a touchdown, the Vikings were expecting more production out of the tight end they signed from the New York Giants in March of '07.
In 2008, Shiancoe hit what might have been the rock bottom of his career in weeks one and two.
After catching a measly three passes at Green Bay in week one, Shiancoe dropped a sure touchdown pass from Tarvaris Jackson in week two at home against Indianapolis.
In the game, Shiancoe caught one pass for 23 yards, but hardly anyone remembered that play.
The play that stuck out in fan's minds was the drop in the back corner of the end zone, mostly because the Vikings ended up losing a game in which they kicked five field goals and lost 18-15 to drop to 0-2 on the season.
Now I know players do drop balls every once in awhile, but when you are a struggling tight end who signed an $18 million contract before the previous season, everyone expects you to come up with the big play.
After much talk around the Twin Cities about the team possibly cutting Shiancoe to give backup tight end Garrett Mills a shot, the six-year tight end proved to get back on track in week three with a change at the quarterback position.
With Gus Frerotte inserted in week three, Shiancoe caught two passes for 38 yards, and a touchdown that put the game out of reach for the Panthers.
He picked up the next week at Tennessee, catching four passes for 47 yards. The offense had seen the tight end come up in big situation, giving Frerotte the confidence to look Shiancoe's way when the team needed a big play.
In the Vikings next four games, Shiancoe caught three touchdown passes as well as becoming a go-to third down receiver over the middle.
Finally, Shiancoe had become the pass-catching tight end he knew he could be.
Down the stretch, the quarterback play for the Vikings took a turn for more inconsistency, and Tarvaris Jackson was put into action in a week 14 game at the Detroit Lions after Frerotte left the game with a back injury. With first place in the NFC North on the line, Shiancoe caught a crucial touchdown pass from Jackson on a roll out play that helped the Vikings come back and win 20-16.
However, the best was yet to come.
In a week 16 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, Visanthe Shiancoe proved he could be an offensive threat, maybe even a top five tight end in the game.
He had season highs in receptions (7), receiving yards (136), and touchdowns (2).
Instead of fans and media talking about his release, they were talking about the maturity that this 28-year-old tight end had shown.
Next year, when the Vikings are moving the ball with running back Adrian Peterson and wide receivers Bernard Berrian and Percy Harvin, don't forget about big #81 in the middle of the field.
Even if Shiancoe gets knocked down early on, expect him to get right back up and catch the football.
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