One of the critical storylines for the first month of the 2008 Vikings season isn’t going to get as much attention in the national press as it deserves. The four-game suspension of Bryant McKinnie is going to take away a player that arguably is as important as any player on the field. His role with the offense is two-fold – he helps open running lanes for Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor and he protects Tarvaris Jackson’s blind side.
It could be argued that the success or failure of the Vikings’ offensive attack will be predicated on those two things – opening running lanes for A.D. and protecting Jackson from the premier pass rushers in the league. The Vikings are now committed to “Plan B” at left tackle. Artis Hicks steps from the shadows to one of the most essential positions on any NFL team. Teams have won titles with below average quarterbacks. The same can be said for suspect defenses, the lack of a dominant running back and razor-thin depth beyond the core starters. No team has ever won a title with a substandard left tackle.
Hicks has been thrust into similar situations before. As a guard with the Philadelphia Eagles, Hicks was told to move to left tackle as an injury replacement. His assignment? Shut down Jason Taylor. He may dance with the stars, but ask any left tackle that has lined up for 70 plays against him and they will tell a tale of woe. He’s that good. Hicks shut him down. Taylor has had plenty of sacks in his career. He had none on Hicks.
When the call to duty came, Hicks answered the bell. He did the same last year when McKinnie was sidelined due to food poisoning against the Packers at the Metrodome. Most fans didn’t even know McKinnie was out. Why? Hicks never got burned.
As the Vikings face four games in which Hicks will likely line up against Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, Dwight Freeney, Julius Peppers and Kyle Vanden Bosch, there should be reason for panic. That is a Fab Four no left tackle wants to face – whether you are Artis Hicks or Orlando Pace. But the Vikings aren’t overly concerned.
For those familiar with the situation, it wasn’t a matter of whether McKinnie would be sat down. The only question was how long. Almost from the moment of the news of McKinnie’s arrest in Miami earlier this year, it was assumed that he would get hit with a four-game suspension. He was already “in the system.” The hope was that the punishment would be reduced to one or two games. It wasn’t. As a result, the Vikings had to prepare for a worst-case scenario. They are faced with it.
At the same time, when the term “competitive advantage” has become a buzz phrase in the NFL, the Vikings anticipated this eventuality. The situation isn’t good, but it isn’t dire. Hicks has been put in similar situations before and stepped up to the challenge. His teammates are convinced he will do the same again, even against a Murderer’s Row of defensive ends lined up against him.
“It’s not as big as everybody seems to think,” guard Steve Hutchinson said. “They’re trying to make a story out of it. Artis is in there every day. He’s been here three years with us and practices and knows the call. He started, even though it’s a different position. Artis is the type of guy who is going to want to play well regardless of the situation.”
Hicks said he isn’t looking at the cumulative grouping of challenges he’s going to face the next four weeks. His mindset is on Cullen Jenkins and Gbaja-Biamila Monday night.
“I’ve only been focusing on Jenkins and KGB,” Hicks said. “It’s just a matter of getting into a comfort zone. You have to be prepared to slide over when needed. That’s part of the versatility component you need. You need to run block and pass block, but you also have to be versatile.”
How well will Hicks do? For Vikings fans, there will only be one true barometer. The less you here his name, the better he’s doing.
The Vikings have just four players listed on their injury report as of Friday – Madieu Williams is out with a neck injury, RB Maurice Hicks is doubtful with a foot injury and Tarvaris Jackson (knee) and Robert Ferguson (ankle) are listed as probable.
The story for the Packers is far different – almost “Belechikian” by numbers. Guard Josh Sitton is out with a knee injury and WR James Jones (knee) is doubtful. Three others – center Scott Wells (back), LB A.J. Hawk (chest) and safety Charlie Peprah (hamstring) – are listed as questionable. Six other players – Gbaja-Biamila (knee), RB Ryan Grant (hamstring), safety Atari Bigby (ankle), DE Jeremy Thompson (groin), OT Chad Clifton (knees – listed as plural) and LB Tracy White (ankle) – are all listed as probable.
Madieu Williams is expected to make his first appearance as a Viking in the Week Four matchup with the Titans.
On the current Vikings depth chart, Drew Radovich is listed as the backup to Hicks. But, there is a fair chance that he will be inactive Monday. If that’s the case, Marcus Johnson will be the second-string left tackle if the call needs to be made.
A lawsuit was filed Friday in Minneapolis concerning the use of NFL player statistics by the CBS television network. CBS, on behalf of its on-line sibling CBS Sportsline, filed suit in district court to set a precedent that the NFL can’t charge for publication of league statistics of individual players. Anyone familiar with fantasy football websites knows that web managers were on pins and needles last year when Major League Baseball attempted to assert ownership (and licensing fees) to player statistics with a relatively miniscule website in Missouri concerning payment of licensing fees pertaining to the use of player names and their statistics. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis ruled that the website wasn’t required to pay a fee for publishing statistics – ruling that the information is public and essential to the dissemination of games. The decision was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the high court declined to review the decision, letting the appeals court ruling stand. With a precedent set, CBS is looking for a similar ruling in its favor. CBS was in an agreement to pay licensing fees for statistics – a contract that expired Feb. 29 of this year. The court filing said that the players association threatened to sue CBS if it didn’t continue to pay licensing fees. Thanks to the USFL debacle of 20 years ago, Judge David Doty became the NFL lawsuit judge du jour for the NFL – his court has decided issues ranging from Al Davis moving the Raiders within the state of California to the ruling that brought full-blown free agency to the NFL. Don’t expect a different decision to come from this court.
In a non-Vikings related note, for the first time since Week One of the 2005 season, New England QB Tom Brady is not listed on the Patriots injury report. For the last three years, he has been listed each week as probable with an injury to his “throwing shoulder.”