George Stewart: Minnesota Vikings WR whisperer

George Stewart’s deep baritone voice and rat-a-tat delivery

serve as the soundtrack for Minnesota Vikings training camp, rising

above click-clack of cleats on the pavement and popping of pads

during the endless drills under the August sun.

It’s the kind of voice that would seem more at home introducing

Motown records on the FM dial rather than barking at a rookie

receiver for cutting a route short. The combination of veteran ball

coach attention to detail and night-time DJ charisma over more than

two decades as a coach in the NFL has helped Stewart to earn a

reputation as a receiver whisperer of sorts with an uncanny knack

for connecting with even the most challenging personalities at a

position that traditionally has been a haven for divas and glory

hounds.

”What has happened, I started off as a peer to most of the

guys,” said Stewart, who was hired by famed Pittsburgh Steelers

coach Chuck Noll in 1989 at the age of 29. ”But as I continue to

get older, those ages stay the same. So I’ve gone from a peer to a

big brother to a father-type figure.”

As the Vikings try to build on a surprising push to the playoffs

last season, Stewart’s job and his ability to reach a variety of

personalities may be more important than ever. The team has a

completely revamped receiver corps this year, with only three

players in the unproven group returning from a passing offense that

ranked 31st in the league last year.

The Vikings brought over veteran Greg Jennings from rival Green

Bay, but he is the only player in the group who has a proven track

record of producing at this level. Jerome Simpson is coming off an

injury plagued season last year. Jarius Wright is in his second

season and played in only seven games last year. Cordarrelle

Patterson is a raw first-round draft pick with one year of major

college experience and the rest of the group is a hodgepodge of

rookie free agents, projects and players hungry for a chance.

With dynamic, do-it-all threat Percy Harvin gone to Seattle,

it’s up to Stewart to mold this crew into a group capable of making

plays for quarterback Christian Ponder and lightening the load on

Adrian Peterson’s shoulders.

”First-round pick, free agent, you treat them both the same,

you work them both the same,” Stewart said. ”There’s no

favorites. They see that and they feel that they have a chance. As

long as they feel like they have an equal chance on equal footing,

we have a chance to be successful.”

Stewart has also worked with the Steelers, 49ers, Falcons and

Buccaneers along the way, and he learned early from Noll and others

that the key to connecting with players was to shoot them straight.

Whether it was Terrell Owens, Randy Moss or Adam Thielen – an

undrafted rookie from Minnesota State, Mankato, trying to win a

roster spot this year – Stewart has never had any trouble finding

some common ground.

”He knows how to relate to us guys and just talk to us like

grown men,” Simpson said.

He also knows when to have some fun. Stewart is known for

orchestrating elaborately choreographed group handshakes to mark

the beginning of practice, sometimes highlighted by his booming

voice shouting ”Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam!” to mark the beginning

of the work period.

Stewart prefers to listen to jazz and classics like Smokey

Robinson these days, but he’ll still throw on some new hip-hop and

R&B to find some common ground with the youngsters of

today.

”I know exactly what they’re talking about and I can feel

them,” Stewart said. ”They’ve kept me young. It’s a great

relationship because it is a relationship based on trust. As long

as we have that type of relationship we have a chance to be

successful.”

If knowing a few lyrics to the latest Jay Z hit helps him catch

a player’s attention, it’s worth it for the guy they call ”Coach

Stew.”

”That’s the cool thing about him,” Thielen said. ”He’s not

only a great coach on the field but just a tremendous guy off the

field. He’s almost like a father figure for us. He would do

anything for us. That makes it a lot easier on our part to

play.”

Online: AP NFL site: http://pro32.ap.org

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