If there’s a good way to lose your starting center, the Vikings are trying to paint this as the best-case scenario for today’s bad news that John Sullivan has been placed on injured reserve with the designation to return no earlier than Week 9.
“I think it’s something we prepared for, so we had the right mindset once we figured out he wasn’t going to be in there,” said left tackle Matt Kalil, referring to the fact Sullivan has been sidelined since Aug. 18. “It’s different that if it just happened yesterday and we found out. Then that’s a big change. … It was a three- or four-week deal, so it was 50-50 that it could have gone either way. So I think that was enough time for us to prepare to be without him. But obviously it’s a big loss.”
Sullivan is the leader of the offensive line and has the NFL’s longest streak of consecutive starts among centers (57). He’s been replaced by Joe Berger, a veteran interior line backup whose primary position is center. Berger has 38 career starts, including 21 at center (one of them in Minnesota). He started 14 games at center for the Dolphins in 2010.
“Joe’s a good player; That’s why we’ve had him here,” Kalil said. “He’s going to get the job done. He’s a physcial, tough player. He’s got years of experience. It’s a good replacement to replace Sully with. I’m not too worried about it. He’s a veteran guy. He knows the system, he knows the calls and we haven’t had any problems so far. It’s been pretty smooth so far.”
Berger counted himself among the players who wanted to see Sullivan return this week.
“We all wanted John to be back,” Sullivan said. “When I signed here in March, I signed because I love the Vikings. I loved everything about the organization. To be put in this role, I’m embracing it. I look forward to it forever how long it last. We hope John heals up quick. He’ll be missed.”
Asked about his comfort level at center, Berger reminded reporters that he signed here in 2011 as a center. Seventeen of his 18 starts with the Vikings have come at either left or right guard. He started nine games at right guard last year.
“Last year, you guys asked the same thing about right guard,” Berger said. “At the time, maybe it wasn’t as comfortable. But with some time there, I felt comfortable. I’ve spent three weeks at center with these guys. So, yeah, I’m comfortable and ready to go.
“The more time you get together as an O-line, the better you’re going to be. It’s been good to be able to work with them. We have some new guys, some young guys. They’ve been good to work with. Obviously, we’re missing a couple key guys there [including right tackle Phil Loadholt, who is out for the season because of a torn Achilles' tendon], but you have to go on.”
As for making the line calls, he said, “That was my position in Miami before I came here. I was primarily a center. You guys have seen me more at guard on game day, but in my mind I’ve been more of a center than anything else.”
Here is some other player reaction from the locker room:
–Defensive end Brian Robison: “Next man up, honestly. We had to see guys get injured, but that’s part of the game. Whoever that next man up is has to fill those shoes with no dropoff.”
–Receiver Jarius Wright: “Sully has always been a great guy since I’ve been here. As a person, it’s hard to see a guy like Sully down. But as a player, it definitely hurts because Sully is all I’ve kind of known at center since I’ve been here. I know how smart of a player he is and how hard he works and some of the things he gets done on the field.”
–Right guard Brandon Fusco, who missed the last 13 games a year ago because of a torn pectoral muscle: “I feel for the guy. It’s not a fun feeling. You come in everyday for rehab and you leave by noon while you watch your guys go to practice. … John definitely was the leader in the room, so I might have to step up my game and help these young guys. Give them any advice I can help them with.”