Your last name is Rice and you are an NFL receiver.
How would you like to try to live up to that combination?
Minnesota Vikings receiver Sidney Rice is no relation to Jerry, arguably the greatest football player ever, but the name connection and the fact they play the same position does bond them.
"He was my favorite player," Sidney Rice said.
He does, by the way, have a Jerry Rice throwback jersey -- which he says is one of his favorites.
Sidney Rice is far from being in the same category with the great San Francisco 49ers receiver, but his start to the 2009 season has many taking note of how much he has improved since last season.
Rice is among a handful of players who have taken major steps forward in 2009. It's hard to say right now who the most improved player is, but Rice is right near the top.
In his third season, Rice has become the Vikings top receiver. After catching 46 passes for 537 yards over his first two seasons -- including an injury-shortened 2008 -- Rice has 37 catches for 585 yards this season. He has two 100-yard receiving games after having none in his first two seasons.
Adding Brett Favre at quarterback has helped, but there are other reasons for his improved play.
"Just basically a lot of work and maturing," Rice said. "One of the biggest things you have to do is prepare yourself the right way. I've learned how to do that. I take game film home every night and watch it on my computer to understand coverage and techniques better. That's something I know now that I have to do."
Rice spent this summer working out with Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who is from Minnesota, and some other NFL players. Jerry Rice actually came to help those players one week, but Sidney missed him. He did get some pointers from former Vikings receiver Cris Carter during one week of sessions.
"Basically, Larry and Cris said to always be working," Rice said. "After practice, you have to continue to work on your own. That's what I do."
Who is the NFL's most improved player of '09?
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With his 6-foot-3 frame and long, flowing dreads, he has been mistaken for Fitzgerald while walking around Minneapolis.
"I'm not Larry," Rice said he tells them.
He's not in Fitzgerald's class yet, but consider this: He has more yards receiving than Fitzgerald, although Fitzgerald leads in catches (47-37).
George Stewart, the Vikings receivers coach, also happened to coach Jerry early in his career. Stewart has said Sidney's build and athletic ability remind him of young Jerry.
"It's a great compliment," Sidney Rice said. "But I have a long way to go."
Who knows, maybe one day another kid named Rice will want a Sidney Rice throwback jersey?
"That would be nice," Rice said. "Yeah, that sounds good."
Here are 11 other players who have caught my eye with their major improvement this season:
Cowboys WR Miles Austin: At the league meetings in March, Jerry Jones propped up Miles Austin as the guy who would replace Terrell Owens. Austin? We laughed. Austin had 15 catches in his three seasons coming into 2009. Jones looks like a genius now. Austin has emerged as the go-to receiver in Dallas, with 26 catches for 563 yards and six touchdowns. His 21.7-yard average per catch is truly impressive. In his past three games, he has 21 catches and five touchdowns.
Chargers WR Vincent Jackson: He's averaged more than 15 yards per catch in each of his five seasons, but this is the season he finally emerges as one of the AFC's best. After catching a career-high 59 passes with seven touchdowns in 2008, he has 37 this season and five touchdowns. His per-catch average of 17.9 is second only to Austin's 21.7 among the top pass catchers.
Texans QB Matt Schaub: He came on strong at the end of last season, offering a hint that he might be ready to claim a Pro Bowl berth this season. So far, he's leading the league in passing yards and he has 16 touchdown passes to tie Brett Favre and Drew Brees for the NFL lead. Schaub looks much more comfortable in the pocket now, and his decision making is much improved.
Giants WR Steve Smith: He caught 57 passes last season and already has 53 this season. Smith isn't a burner, but he knows how to get open and run routes. His per-catch average of 12.5 isn't as eye-opening as some of the other receivers here, but that's because he isn't a speed receiver.
Bengals C Kyle Cook: The Bengals let Eric Ghiaciuc, last year's starter, leave in free agency in large part because they wanted to get a more physical presence inside. Cook, who was signed as a free agent after being cut by the Vikings three years ago, has provided it. He is smart but also plays a tough game. The Cincinnati line was considered a weak spot heading into the season, but the play of Cook in the middle has helped change that.
Saints CB Jabari Greer: Greer, signed as a free agent from Buffalo, has been outstanding in coverage. When the Saints signed him, they weren't even positive he would start. Now he's one of their best defensive players. In seven games, he has two interceptions and has excelled in man coverage. The two picks tie his career best, which he had twice in Buffalo, where he made 26 starts in five seasons.
Patriots S Brandon Meriweather: He came into the league as a first-round pick out of Miami in 2007, but it took until this season for him to be considered an impact defender. Meriweather was used at corner and safety early by the Patriots, which led to confusion and mistakes. But now settled in at free safety, he's playing his best football and might be the team's defensive MVP. His range is key. He has two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown.
Niners TE Vernon Davis: When the 49ers picked him in the first round of the 2006 draft, they thought they were getting the next great star receiving tight end. Somehow, though, his amazing athletic ability didn't quite translate into on-field success -- until now. Davis has 32 catches, and his seven touchdown receptions lead all tight ends. He caught 31 passes in 16 games last season.
Steelers LT Max Starks: He held Minnesota's Jared Allen to one tackle a couple of weeks ago, a game I watched live. The Steelers gave him a long-term contract this spring, a move some questioned. But Starks has been a good player for the Steelers. He has always been pretty good in the run game, but his pass protection has really improved. They don't need to help him as much anymore.
Eagles RT Winston Justice: In 2007, he was the victim of a six-sack game by Osi Umenyiora of the Giants. Justice was making his first start and some wondered if he could ever recover. He has. Now playing on the right side, Justice is playing good football. He helped hold Justin Tuck without a sack in the Philadelphia's blowout of the Giants last week. The Eagles did help him some, but Justice did a good job when singled up.
Bengals RB Cedric Benson: How do you go from bust to the Pro Bowl? Benson is trying to show how. Benson was a former first-round pick of the Chicago Bears, but after three ho-hum seasons, he was released in June of last year. No team signed Benson before the 2008 season, but Cincinnati did in late September when the team was 0-4. He was the surprise of the second half, rushing for 747 yards. Now he's the surprise runner of this season with 720 yards and five touchdowns. He is fourth in the league in rushing and second in the AFC.