MANKATO, Minn. – Players trying to bounce back from substandard performances in professional sports provide a never-ending preseason story line, often touting a revamped workout regimen, positive personal-life changes or greater knowledge of the game as their ticket to improvement.
For Bernard Berrian, it's so much more simple than that.
"One of the best things for Bernard is being out there," Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said.
Really, that's it?
"It doesn't take anything else but being on the field," Berrian said. "You either got it, or you don't."
There are certainly other factors in the formula for re-establishing himself as one of the NFL's most dangerous deep-route wide receivers, such as the health of Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin and of course the status of the old noncommittal quarterback Brett Favre.
Berrian's biggest challenge, however, might be keeping that left hamstring strong.
"It was kind of a funny-looking deal, when you saw it on tape," coach Brad Childress said, referring to Berrian's dehydration-related strain of a receiver's most important muscle in the team's first preseason game last August. "Those guys are such low-fat guys, you've got to watch them."
Unable to practice during Favre's first few weeks in Minnesota, Berrian struggled to find a rhythm with his new quarterback until the very last game. He reinjured the hamstring in a late October game at Pittsburgh and didn't feel right until December.
"Trying to deal with that was a new experience," Berrian said. "Trying to play on that is really tough."
Even during the NFC championship game loss in New Orleans, when Berrian had his best game of the season with nine catches and 102 yards, Favre failed to look toward a wide-open Berrian near the sideline on that fateful fourth-quarter rollout. The pass, forced to Rice in the middle of the field, was intercepted by the Saints.
After leading the Vikings with 964 yards and seven touchdowns receiving and finishing second in the league with an average of more than 20 yards per reception in 2008, Berrian slipped to 618 yards and four scores last season.
Berrian had four catches of 50-plus yards in 2008 and none last season, becoming more of a middle-of-the-field option while Rice emerged as the go-to deep guy.
"All those pieces, only so many people can get the ball," Bevell said, proudly pointing to the six players the Vikings had with 40 or more catches last season.
With Rice (hip) and Harvin (family) missing all week, Berrian has been playing all three receiver positions in practice — a versatility the Vikings plan to extend into the season even when Rice and Harvin are suited up.
"I think it'll help all of us," Childress said, noting this week that Berrian was "standing out" while diversifying his route running with more crossing and slant patterns.
Signed to a huge contract in 2008 worth as much as $42 million over six years, the Vikings believe Berrian's situation is similar to Rice's last season — hampered by injury throughout the previous year and poised for a breakout. Berrian has twice in his career narrowly missed an 1,000-yard season.
"It's definitely a milestone that every receiver wants to get to," he said. "As long as we're winning, that takes care of everything else. I don't care. But it's definitely something I'd like to achieve in my career."
That starts with racking up those long catches again.
"I take pride in that. That's what I do. That's what I was brought in here for," Berrian said.
Berrian's identity transcends football, actually. He has scratched his creative itches by learning the drums and taking piano lessons, and he's also interested in fashion and modeling. This summer, he joined Cincinnati wide receiver Chad Ochocinco on a reality dating show filmed for cable network VH1.
On "Ochocinco: The Ultimate Catch," Berrian helps his flamboyant friend decide which women are the most dateable during a bracket-style competition for Ochocinco's heart.
"Our personalities together was kind of funny on the show. It's interesting," Berrian said, continuing: "You always want to make sure you've got something to do. You look at a lot of players that retire: When they're done with football they don't know what to do and they go crazy. I always try to make sure I've got my hand or foot in something."