Hartman: Vikings' Sullivan ready for better play, better health in 2014

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 2, 2014 - 6:26 PM

There’s no question John Sullivan is important to the Vikings, and he is one of the reason the team’s offense was not as effective as it could have been last season, because he played hurt all year.

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Veteran Vikings center John Sullivan (65), working out with Adrian Peterson during the Vikings morning practice on Saturday in Mankato, said that this year’s team is trying to follow the lead of its new coach, Mike Zimmer.

Photo: CARLOS GONZALEZ, Star Tribune

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I have told this story before, about how Paul Brown had the second choice in the 1968 NFL draft. That was a draft with a group of great quarterbacks and running backs available, such as Larry Csonka, but the Cincinnati Bengals coach shocked everybody in the room by taking center Bob Johnson of Tennessee with his choice.

When I asked Brown about his choice at the draft — held in a small Chicago hotel room, unlike the spectacle that takes place today — he said how important the center position was and that Johnson would play 15 years for him. Brown wasn’t too far off, as Johnson ended up being with the Bengals for 12.

When it comes to centers, there’s no question John Sullivan is that important to the Vikings, and he is one of the reason the team’s offense was not as effective as it could have been last season, because he played hurt all year.

While Sullivan isn’t the kind of player to use injuries as an excuse for a decline in play, there’s no question that the 2012 first-team All-Pro wasn’t himself last season. But as the first week of training camp came to a conclusion, even Sullivan admitted he is feeling much better this year.

“I don’t know if you’re ever close to 100 percent when you play in the NFL,” said Sullivan, a sixth-round selection in 2008. “You know, it’s difficult to be fully healthy, and everybody deals with different nagging things throughout the year. But I will say this: I feel a lot better right now than I did a year ago.”

Sullivan’s health will go a long way to improving the Vikings offensive line play, a unit that helped Adrian Peterson to a near-NFL-record 2,097 rushing yards in 2012 but struggled comparatively last season. One thing that Sullivan said will also help is that the offensive line will feature the same starting five for the third season in a row.

“Continuity is incredibly important [in the offensive line],” he said. “It takes a while to build chemistry, and when you’re familiar with guys, you know how they’re going to react, it gives you an advantage.

“We’re playing in a new offensive system, obviously we have a jump start on it from OTAs and minicamps, so we feel like we picked up [at the start of training camp] right where we left off. We didn’t have to go back and relearn everything that we did in the spring. There’s still some things to figure out, obviously, with the new system — however, having continuity in the room with the players and having Jeff Davidson back as our coach, it definitely helps us progress very fast.”

Some differences

Yes, even though it’s a new offense under Norv Turner, the players on the line are the same, and Davidson remained with the team. It’s clear that this will be a big advantage for the Vikings.

“Some things get called differently, some assignments change, but a lot of our terminology stays the same in terms of the techniques we’re using on the offensive line,” Sullivan said. “So you know for the first group, the guys that have played together for a long time, we don’t make many calls when we get on the field, especially when we know what we’re going to do.

“All you’re doing by making calls and communicating is kind of muddying the picture, and giving the defensive linemen an opportunity to know what you’re going to do during a play. So it’s really helpful in the meeting room after practice when we’re discussing things, we can talk about different techniques that we’re using, and that terminology stays the same. Football is football, but the ways you put plays together, the way that certain things are called, that has changed with this new system.”

Expectations high for 2014

Sullivan started as a second-year player when the Vikings reached the NFC Championship Game and was also part of the wild-card team in 2012. He thinks that this team can be greatly improved over last season, and thinks a lot of that will come if they can take on the character of new coach Mike Zimmer.

“Ultimately anything we say right now is just conjecture,” Sullivan said. “We need to go out and prove it. We have a couple weeks to get ready at training camp in pads, then the preseason to get ready for the live show, and once we get to the regular season we’ll see what this team is made of. But we’re going to try to be built in the image of our head coach. We’re not going to talk a whole lot, we’re going to be real tough, and we’re going to go out there and play good football.”

Does Sullivan have any individual goals for this season outside of winning more games? “We do set individual goals, but a lot of times they’re not necessarily measurable,” he said. “You can get a feel, but as an offensive linemen it’s not like I can say, ‘I want to rush for X amount of yards or have Y amount of tackles.’ It’s about improving your technique and being a better leader and things along those lines. You know you have to take feedback from your coaches and then be honest in the assessment of what you see on tape about how well you’re playing and how well you’re achieving those things.”

Sid's jottings

This season, to buy a Vikings single-game ticket to the Packers game, you also have to buy a ticket to the Falcons game as well. To buy a single ticket to the Patriots game, you have to purchase a ticket to the Jets game. After going with 64,000 seats at the Metrodome for years, the Vikings will have only 52,000-plus seats at TCF Bank Stadium, with 1,700 bleacher seats being added in the open end of the stadium.

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Los Angeles - LP: C. Frias 2 FINAL
Colorado - WP: J. De La Rosa 16
San Francisco - WP: S. Romo 4 FINAL
Arizona - LP: A. Reed 2
Boston 0 Top 5th Inning
Pittsburgh 5
Toronto 0 Bottom 5th Inning
Baltimore 1
Washington 1 Bottom 6th Inning
Atlanta 0
Miami 3 Bottom 5th Inning
NY Mets 0
NY Yankees 2 Top 6th Inning
Tampa Bay 1
Cincinnati 1 Bottom 2nd Inning
Chicago Cubs 0
Chicago WSox 0 Bottom 2nd Inning
Kansas City 0
Cleveland 0 Bottom 2nd Inning
Houston 0
Detroit 2 Bottom 1st Inning
Minnesota 1
Milwaukee 0 Bottom 2nd Inning
St. Louis 0
Seattle - J. Paxton 9:05 PM
LA Angels - C. Wilson
Texas - D. Holland 9:05 PM
Oakland - J. Samardzija
Philadelphia - C. Hamels 9:10 PM
San Diego - E. Stults
Tampa Bay 9/18/14 7:25 PM
Atlanta
San Diego 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Buffalo
Dallas 9/21/14 12:00 PM
St. Louis
Washington 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Philadelphia
Houston 9/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
Minnesota 9/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Tennessee 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Cincinnati
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Cleveland
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Jacksonville
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New England
San Francisco 9/21/14 3:05 PM
Arizona
Denver 9/21/14 3:25 PM
Seattle
Kansas City 9/21/14 3:25 PM
Miami
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NY Jets
(5) Auburn 9/18/14 6:30 PM
(20) Kansas State
Connecticut 9/19/14 7:00 PM
So Florida
Old Dominion 9/20/14 11:00 AM
Rice
Troy 9/20/14 11:00 AM
(13) Georgia
Georgia Tech 9/20/14 11:00 AM
Virginia Tech
Eastern Mich 9/20/14 11:00 AM
(11) Michigan State
Iowa 9/20/14 11:00 AM
Pittsburgh
Bowling Green 9/20/14 11:00 AM
(19) Wisconsin
Maryland 9/20/14 11:30 AM
Syracuse
Tulane 9/20/14 11:30 AM
Duke
Hawaii 9/20/14 1:00 PM
Colorado
Marshall 9/20/14 1:00 PM
Akron
North Carolina 9/20/14 2:30 PM
East Carolina
Army 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Virginia 9/20/14 2:30 PM
(21) BYU
(6) Texas A&M 9/20/14 2:30 PM
SMU
Rutgers 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Navy
Central Mich 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Kansas
Utah 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Michigan
Florida 9/20/14 2:30 PM
(3) Alabama
Louisville 9/20/14 2:30 PM
FIU
Fla Atlantic 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Wyoming
Indiana 9/20/14 3:00 PM
(18) Missouri
San Jose St 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Minnesota
Texas State 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Illinois
Massachusetts 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Penn State
Georgia State 9/20/14 5:00 PM
Washington
Appalachian St 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
Miss State 9/20/14 6:00 PM
(8) LSU
Northern Ill 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Arkansas
Middle Tennessee 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Memphis
Utah State 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Arkansas State
Miami-Ohio 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Idaho 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Ohio U
Ball State 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Toledo
(14) So Carolina 9/20/14 6:30 PM
Vanderbilt
(4) Oklahoma 9/20/14 6:30 PM
West Virginia
Ga Southern 9/20/14 6:30 PM
South Alabama
UNLV 9/20/14 7:00 PM
Houston
(22) Clemson 9/20/14 7:00 PM
(1) Florida State
Miami-Florida 9/20/14 7:00 PM
(24) Nebraska
New Mexico 9/20/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico St
California 9/20/14 9:00 PM
Arizona
Louisiana 9/20/14 9:30 PM
Boise State
(2) Oregon 9/20/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
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Toronto 9/19/14 9:00 PM
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Edmonton 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Hamilton
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Montreal
Ottawa 9/21/14 3:00 PM
Saskatchewan
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Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans Noon
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pm
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pm
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit Noon
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo Noon
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay Noon
Nov 2 - vs. Washington Noon
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago Noon
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay Noon
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina Noon
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets Noon
Dec 14 - at Detroit Noon
Dec 21 - at Miami Noon
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago Noon

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