The fourth-year center credits his health, his frame of mind and his new coaches for his improved play in 2011.
How important is the center position in the NFL?
Well, I have told this story before: In the 1968 draft, Paul Brown was drafting second for the expansion Cincinnati Bengals. Instead of drafting an offensive skill player, he surprised everybody by drafting center Bob Johnson of Tennessee.
When asked why he made that choice, Brown said you can't win without a good center, adding that Johnson would play for his team forever.
Johnson played 12 years for the Bengals, and to this day his jersey No. 54 is the only number retired by the organization.
John Sullivan is the Vikings center, and he will be the first to admit he didn't play up to the best of his ability a year ago, and no doubt that had some effect on how the line blocked as a whole.
A year ago before training camp opened, Sullivan's father died. On top of that, he had an operation for appendicitis, which hindered his play for some time, and that was followed by a calf injury that forced him to miss two games.
But Sullivan, a sixth-round pick out of Notre Dame in 2008, believes that this year things have started much more smoothly.
"Yeah, this season is totally different," Sullivan said. "I feel great. It's a new season, and I think training camp went well and I'm looking forward to going out and getting the regular season started.
"It's just one of those things about the game. You have to go out and play with injuries if you feel you can be out on the field, and I did that [in 2010]. Luckily I had a long offseason to recover and now I feel 100 percent healthy and ready to go and show what I can really can do. Obviously you can't totally leave those things behind when you go on the field. I feel like I'm playing with a much clearer head this season."
Sullivan added that he came back this year with a more positive attitude.
When new offensive line coach Jeff Davidson was asked how Sullivan was performing this year compared to last based on study of the 2010 game film, Davidson said that there is no comparison.
Sullivan said he appreciated the good words from Davidson but credited the coaches for his improved play. "I think that's in large part due to the scheme we've put in," Sullivan said. "Coach Davidson and coach [Bill] Musgrave and the offensive staff along with the head coach [Leslie Frazier], I attribute that as much to them as anything else."
Davidson, 43, was a successful assistant with the Patriots, Browns and Panthers before joining the Vikings this year.
"I think the whole group loves playing for Jeff," Sullivan said. "He's an incredible coach from a scheme standpoint, from a technique standpoint. I think we've all benefited as players since he's been here."Doctors deserve credit
There are a lot of good doctors who, over the years, have taken care of the various sports teams in this area. But nobody did it as long as Gophers football physician Pat Smith and Sheldon Burns, who works with the Vikings, Wild and Timberwolves. Smith and Burns have been serving in their roles for more than 25 years.
The word dedication describes both. I have watched both work in emergency situations, such as how Smith did when Gophers coach Jerry Kill suffered the seizure Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium, and they are always tremendous in tough situations.
Both live and die with their teams and are on call at all times. The athletes have so much respect for them. The Kill case is a good example: Smith has practically lived with the Gophers coach to help monitor his recovery since the seizure.Jottings
• Saturday will be special for Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi with his football team playing host to Miami (Ohio), for the simple fact that he spent five years as the athletic director at the school in Oxford, Ohio. Miami is a school that has ties with some of the biggest football stars this nation has produced, with Earl Blaik, Ara Parseghian and Woody Hayes topping the list. Maturi didn't have the rebuilding job at Miami that he has had with the Gophers. The RedHawks football team was 10-1 his first season and went 37-20 over his five years there.
• Former Gophers receiver Eric Decker had his best day as a pro on Monday night in the Denver Broncos' 23-20 loss to the Oakland Raiders. He returned a punt 90 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter, his second NFL touchdown, and added three receptions for 53 yards, both single-game career highs. The punt return was the third-longest in Broncos history.
• Former Gophers running back Laurence Maroney was recently found not guilty of misdemeanor possession of marijuana after a judge in Missouri's St. Louis County agreed that evidence was insufficient. Maroney, 26, is trying to sign on with an NFL squad after the Broncos didn't renew his contract following the 2010 season.
• Sidney Rice has returned to practice with the Seattle Seahawks following a shoulder injury that forced him to sit out Week 1. It is unclear whether the former Vikings receiver will be cleared to play this week vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers.
• Twins closer Joe Nathan, talking about his ups and downs this year, said: "I see it as I didn't really start OK, I think I just got lucky in the beginning. I think this season has just gradually gotten better for me. Each day, each month, each week, I just continued to try and get better, and that's kind of what I expected coming into the season. Nothing has really been much of a surprise for me. I feel as good as I always have. That's all I could hope for, is to come to the park and get to throw every day."
• Former Twins catcher Wilson Ramos went 3-for-5 with an RBI and three runs scored Thursday as the Nationals beat the Mets 10-1. He continues to put up solid numbers in Washington, hitting .263 with 12 home runs, 45 RBI and 44 runs.
• Jason Butikofer, who was a fundraiser for the Gophers, is now associate athletic director for development at Army.
• Tom Barnett, a grandson of longtime NFL coach Dick Vermeil, is now working under Kevin Warren, Vikings vice president of legal affairs and chief administrative officer.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. • firstname.lastname@example.org
|Seattle - LP: C. Furbush||8||FINAL|
|Cleveland - WP: J. Smith||10|
|Tampa Bay - LP: J. Lueke||5||FINAL|
|Toronto - WP: R. Dickey||7|
|NY Yankees - WP: D. Robertson||6||FINAL|
|Baltimore - LP: P. Strop||4|
|Cincinnati - WP: J. Cueto||4||FINAL|
|NY Mets - LP: S. Marcum||3|
|Philadelphia - LP: C. Hamels||1||FINAL|
|Miami - WP: A. Sanabia||5|
|Minnesota - LP: K. Correia||1||FINAL|
|Atlanta - WP: J. Teheran||5|
|Oakland - WP: B. Colon||9||FINAL|
|Texas - LP: J. Lindblom||2|
|Los Angeles - WP: C. Kershaw||3||FINAL|
|Milwaukee - LP: Y. Gallardo||1|
|Boston - LP: J. Lester||4||FINAL|
|Chicago WSox - WP: D. Axelrod||6|
|Kansas City - LP: J. Guthrie||5||FINAL|
|Houston - WP: D. Keuchel||6|
|Arizona - WP: P. Corbin||5||FINAL|
|Colorado - LP: J. Garland||1|
|St. Louis - LP: S. Miller||2||FINAL|
|San Diego - WP: J. Marquis||4|
|Washington - LP: Z. Duke||0||FINAL|
|San Francisco - WP: R. Vogelsong||8|
|Aug 9 - vs. Houston||7 pm|
|Aug 16 - at Buffalo||6 pm|
|Aug 25 - at San Francisco||7 pm|
|Aug 29 - vs. Tennessee||7 pm|
|2013 regular season|
|Sep 8 - at Detroit||Noon|
|Sep 15 - at Chicago||Noon|
|Sep 22 - vs. Cleveland||Noon|
|Sep 29 - vs. Pittsburgh (in London)||Noon|
|Oct 6 - Bye|
|Oct 13 - vs. Carolina||Noon|
|Oct 21 - at. NY Giants||7:40 pm|
|Oct 27 - vs. Green Bay||7:30 pm|
|Nov 3 - at Dallas||Noon|
|Nov 7 - vs. Washington||7:25 pm|
|Nov 17 - at Seattle||3:25 pm|
|Nov. 24 - at Green Bay||Noon|
|Dec 1 - vs. Chicago||Noon|
|Dec 8 - at Baltimore||Noon|
|Dec 15 - vs. Philadelphia||Noon|
|Dec 22 - at Cincinnati||Noon|
|Dec 29 - vs. Detroit||Noon|