EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Visanthe Shiancoe sure has been quiet this preseason. Maybe a little too quiet.
The Minnesota Vikings tight end has earned a reputation as being one of the most talkative and colorful characters on the team over the last four seasons. That gregarious personality seemed muted during a preseason in which Shiancoe did not play a single down because of a lingering hamstring injury.
That means Shiancoe missed out on valuable practice and game time with new quarterback Donovan McNabb, not to mention time he could use learning the new offense brought in by coordinator Bill Musgrave.
With his hamstring healing, and the Vikings preparing to open the season on Sunday at San Diego, it appears that the old Shiancoe is starting to come back to life, just in time for him to start the all-important final year of his contract.
Shiancoe said Wednesday that he is 100 percent ready to go against the Chargers and then painted a picture of how he aggravated the hamstring in practice two weeks ago like only he can.
"I wasn't ready at all yet," Shiancoe said. "It was still baking. I took it out the oven too soon."
So now the hamstring is, uh, fully baked?
"It's out of the oven nice and fresh," he said. "Fresh hammy."
It better be.
Shiancoe is in the final year of his deal and coming off a season in which another hamstring injury slowed his production and limited him to just two touchdowns. It was a big step back for Shiancoe and the entire Vikings offense after he caught 11 touchdowns and 56 passes from Brett Favre in 2009.
Add to it that the Vikings took a tight end in the second round of the draft — Notre Dame's Kyle Rudolph, who quickly emerged as a versatile threat while gobbling up Shiancoe's playing time in the preseason — and the pressure is on for Shiancoe get back to his post as one of the best receiving tight ends in the game.
All the missed time in the preseason has already put him behind.
"I tried to give Shiancoe a hard time telling him to remember that we did draft a guy in the second round and he is not looking too bad," Musgrave quipped back in August. "Shianc is coming back as fast as he can and we are looking forward to getting him back."
The biggest challenge is to get on the same page with McNabb, who hasn't had a lot of time to throw to Shiancoe in practices or games since being acquired in a trade with Washington just before training camp. Shiancoe said he planned to stay late after practice on Thursday, and possibly Friday, with the quarterback to get a little extra work in, and coach Leslie Frazier will be watching the developments closely.
"The end of this week will tell us more," Frazier said. "He's missed a ton of time and not only missed practice time, but game time as well. It'll be a little bit of a work in progress. He'll be a little bit behind some of the other guys just because the lack of time with he and Donovan."
McNabb has long favored throwing to tight ends, from Chad Lewis, L.J. Smith and Brent Celek in Philadelphia to Chris Cooley and Fred Davis last year in Washington.
"I think for Shiancoe you don't want to rush him into trying to get into that flow," McNabb said. "I think he has played the game enough where he understands.
"For me it's just kind of adjusting to his speed. We had some time together before he got injured in training camp. For me, it's nothing to adjust to a different guy. I think the things we have been able to do with the guys that have been out there; he can just fit right into that and we can continue to move forward."
While he has been watching from the sidelines, the ninth-year pro said he has had to rely more than ever on his experiences in the league to make sure that he was processing the information even though he wasn't in the huddle.
"You have to be on point mentally, and that can take you a long way," Shiancoe said. "Especially when you can sit back and just watch it, you can pick up things that you wouldn't be able to pick up inside by looking at it from the outside in. So I've got to stay keen on that. Musgrave made that clear to me as well."
For now, Shiancoe said he is not worrying about his next contract or Rudolph taking his starting spot. The Vikings will run plenty of two-tight end sets in Musgrave's system, and the money will come if Shiancoe produces.
"It's all about the team. It's all about winning," Shiancoe said. "Last thing the organization needs is a distraction. That's something I would never do."
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