By Jeff Arenz
EDEN PRAIRIE - Former Southwest Minnesota State wide receiver Anthony Dean is getting a chance to prove himself with the Minnesota Vikings.
Dean was trying out for the team among 10 draft picks, 15 undrafted free agents and about a dozen players from around the upper Midwest at the Vikings' rookie camp, which began Friday and runs through Sunday in Eden Prairie.
He took a positive attitude into the camp.
"I need to do what I always do. That is staying relaxed, have fun with the game and staying focused," Dean said in an interview late Wednesday night. "I know that I have to work hard to earn my keep."
Dean, who ranks among the best wideouts in SMSU history, is second all-time with 18.39 yards per catch and third with 29 touchdown receptions. With those 29 TDs scored, Dean is seventh and his 176 points scored ranks 10th. He finished with 1,894 receiving yards, which is 11th all time for the Mustangs.
The Vikings, who did not draft a wide receiver in 2014, are looking at a few different options. Among the players Dean is competing against are former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter, who the Vikings signed as an undrafted free agent, and former Eastern Illinois wideout Erik Lora, who caught 136 passes in 2012 to set an FCS record.
Dean, who hauled in 103 passes in four years as a Mustang, has tried to improve his skills since last fall.
"I went out to Arizona a few times to workout with former Cardinals wide receiver J.T. Smith. I have been working on my routes, my footwork and my hand-eye coordination," Dean said. "I also ran track at SMSU for the first time at the collegiate level because I wanted to get my speed up and stay in shape."
Smith is a two-time Pro Bowler.
"J.T. showed me ways to get off the line (of scrimmage), how to improve my speed and use it as I run routes, how to recognize coverages and how to pick up the pace at which the NFL plays," Dean said.
Some of Dean's greatest on-field assets are his speed and his ability to gain yards after making a catch. An asset Dean has away from the field is SMSU head coach Cory Sauter, who played seven seasons in the NFL after signing as an undrafted free agent quarterback with the Arizona Cardinals in 1998.
Sauter has passed on his experience in the NFL to Dean.
"In camp, there is always a lot of time before or after practice when you're waiting to be noticed," Sauter said. "If he could start talking with some of the more experienced players, that would be one way to get noticed. Another way is to start learning the playbook which, in the NFL, can be the size of a metro-area phonebook."
Sauter said Dean is going to have to make a quick, lasting impression.
"The veteran guys and draft picks are going to get the majority of the reps in practice. Whenever you get an opportunity, you have to make your mark," Sauter said. "A guy like Anthony Dean has a lot of natural ability and straight-out speed, especially after the catch. I think the biggest thing for him is to be himself."
Dean is living out his dream.
"It has always been a dream of mine to go to the NFL, but it's not a done-deal, yet," Dean said. "I'm excited about this opportunity and I'm ready to go there and work."
If he fails to be scooped up by the Vikings, Dean has also received phone calls from the Kansas City Chiefs, the St. Louis Rams and his hometown Tampa Bay Buccaneers.