When Artis Hicks signed with the Washington Redskins as a free agent, the Vikings lost their most versatile offensive lineman.

Hicks was the primary backup at both guard and tackle spots for the past two seasons and did a nice job while filling in for Bryant McKinnie for the first four games of 2008 when McKinnie was suspended for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy. With Hicks gone, coach Brad Childress said this week that Ryan Cook stands to take over the primary backup role. Cook actually can play all five positions on the line, including center.

Cook is a restricted free agent and has been tendered at a third-round level. He has yet to sign the tender but that likely is going to happen because it's difficult to believe a team would give up a third-round pick for Cook. (The deadline for a restricted free agent to sign an offer sheet from another club is April 15. If the RFA has not signed an offer sheet by that date, his 2010 NFL rights will revert exclusively to his 2009 team.)

"That doesn't mean somebody won't take [Cook] from us," Childress said. "But he literally can play across all five [positions]. Artis was a four of five guy. But you always want to get younger in general. You'd like to get younge in those lines. And that's no secret. Mac's a eighth-year guy if I'm not mistaken.

"[Hutchinson] is a ninth-year guy. [Sullivan's] just starting. [Anthony] Herrera is a six or seven. And Phil [Loadholt] is young. And you can't do it all at once. There's the old adage you don't want to grow old all at the same time. So it's nice to be able to spot guys in there and learn from the older guys, wherever that may be."

There has been speculation this offseason that the Vikings might be looking to upgrade at right guard. Asked how pleased he was with Herrera's performance in 2009, Childress said: "I thought he played decent. He obviously had that setback with the concussion [later in the season].

"But again, he was a post-surgical guy that really had a pretty good shoulder surgery [after the 2008 season] that he fought through. Like we talked at the end of the year, it would be great for him not to be rehabbing here at the end of this year as we go through the offseason but be more in a strength building mode. Because I think that's one of his fortes. He's got good feet. But he's got good levers up top as well. I think he can probably get back on that horse."

Childress had said after the 2008 season that Herrera had undergone shoulder surgery but did not say how extensive it was until this latest comment.