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.