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Free agent Wiggins filling important role for Vikes

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) _ Cornerback Antoine Winfield and wide receiver Marcus Robinson were the two most heralded free agents signed by Minnesota last March.

Both players have been a big part of the Vikings' 4-1 start, but don't leave out the contribution made by a lesser-known addition _ tight end Jermaine Wiggins.

Jim Kleinsasser's season-ending knee injury was a big blow, but strong run-blocking by the offensive line and some timely catches by Wiggins have helped soften it.

Rookies Richard Owens and Jeff Dugan are the other two tight ends, so the presence of a dependable veteran Wiggins played on Super Bowl teams with New England in 2001 and Carolina in '03 is important. He caught two touchdown passes from Daunte Culpepper last week and has 15 receptions for 139 yards over the three games he's played in. A broken hand kept Wiggins out for two games.

Once I got here, I showed everybody what I was capable of doing,'' Wiggins said.Daunte had confidence in me from Day One.''

Even before the injury to Randy Moss last weekend, Culpepper has been spreading the ball around well.

``This is a beautiful offense to be in,'' said Wiggins, who started his college career at Marshall before transferring to Georgia.

He joined the New York Jets as a rookie free agent in 1999, signed with the Patriots partway through the 2000 season, played three games with Indianapolis in 2002 and was then picked up by the Panthers after the Colts released him.

Laden with tattoos and still sporting his thick New England accent, Wiggins was a star at East Boston High School. He's been a bit distracted this week with his Red Sox rallying to beat the New York Yankees in baseball's AL championship series.

In his first year with the Vikings, Wiggins is rather soft-spoken but is becoming one of the many unique characters on this team. After his second TD last week in New Orleans, Wiggins dropped to the turf and began breakdancing on the goal line.

Just something that came to my head,'' Wiggins said.Good things.''

Without Kleinsasser, Minnesota is still figuring out how to allocate the tight ends among its many offensive sets.

``Trying to put the players that do certain things better in certain positions, without exposing or giving a tip on exactly what we're doing,'' coach Mike Tice explained.

Though a pass receiver first, Wiggins is becoming a reliable run blocker, too.

I thought he had a great game,'' Tice said.I thought he fit right in with the offensive line.''

Guys just have to step up and take their game to another level,'' Wiggins said.When Jimmy went down, I just knew that I had to step my game up. And that's what I'm going to keep doing week in and week out, regardless of who's here and who's not.''

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