With Sullivan still recovering, Vikes line in flux

With 10 days remaining before their much-anticipated
regular-season opener, the Minnesota Vikings have a lot of work to
do to get their offense in sync.

Because of injuries and acquisitions, the wide receivers aren’t
up to speed. The old quarterback, Brett Favre, is less than two
weeks into his post-training-camp catch-up session for the second
straight summer.

Probably the most pressing issue, however, is the interior of
the offensive line. Starting center John Sullivan has been held out
for most of the month because of a lingering right-calf injury, and
was absent from practice again on Monday.

”We’re just trying not to load it up too much,” coach Brad
Childress said, referring to Sullivan’s leg. ”We’re still trying
to get some of the soreness out.”

Regular right guard Anthony Herrera spent some time at center
during each of the last two preseason games, though Childress said
he might not have Herrera play there at all in Thursday’s
exhibition against the Denver Broncos and focus instead on backups
Jon Cooper and Ryan Cook. When Herrera moved to the middle, rookie
Chris DeGeare got time at right guard.

As for whether Sullivan will be ready in time to face the Super
Bowl champion Saints on Sept. 9, well, that’s a mystery. Even
though Childress has acknowledged the possibility of Herrera making
a long-term move to center, he hasn’t committed to Herrera as
Sullivan’s replacement if that becomes necessary. Cooper and,
perhaps, Cook remain possibilities.

”It’s just like everything on offense: We are still in a state
of change,” Childress said.

Sullivan’s grasp of the complexity of the position isn’t a
concern for the Vikings. Rather, he’s fallen behind with his
conditioning with all the missed practice time.

”Sully’s a smart guy,” offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell
said. ”He’ll be able to pick up whatever we’re doing. He knows the
calls. He knows our offense, so that’s not the issue. The issue
would probably be his stamina, his strength and some of those
things from not being in there.”

The Vikings have not revealed the exact nature of Sullivan’s
injury. When asked how many full practices the third-year player
would need before he’s cleared to go to New Orleans, Childress
chose the vague route for his answer.

”As many as you can get. Let’s put it that way. Then you make a
decision if we are better off to go with someone else or put him in
there,” Childress said.

In last week’s preseason game against Seattle, Favre was hit
hard a few times and the protection up front was shaky. Aside from
a 24-yard carry, Adrian Peterson had no room to run. Left guard
Steve Hutchinson blamed mental errors for some of the line’s
problems.

”We’ve probably got a number of things to work on,” Hutchinson
said. ”With offense it’s always timing and things like that.”

Hutchinson has been helping Herrera with the pre-snap calls at
the line, considered the most important part of playing center next
to hiking the ball cleanly.

One of the team’s most aggressive and rugged players, Herrera
acknowledged after Saturday’s game against the Seahawks it’s hard
for him to slow down his pace – which is a must at the center
position.

”You can’t be out of your box. You have to stay calm,” he
said.

Herrera stopped short of complaining about the challenge,
however.

”I get paid to play. I get paid to get better at my craft, and
at the end of the day everything will take care of itself,” he
said.