If the pieces of the offensive line are supposed to fit together like a fist, the Vikings have been without their middle finger for the last two preseason games, rendering them with a bit of an uneven punch.
After offseason ankle surgery, John Sullivan has been limited much of this preseason because of a calf injury, leaving the team to make do with more inexperienced players at the position. While Sullivan is only in his third year in the league and entering his second as the starter, his replacement the last two games was 2009 undrafted free agent Jon Cooper.
Sullivan said this week he didn't want to put a number on what percent he is, saying it doesn't really mean anything, but "I'm working my absolute hardest," he said.
The Vikings also tried a new tactic on Sunday night. After Cooper played the first series, seventh-year lineman Anthony Herrera slid over to take a series on the pivot.
Herrera, who has been the starting right guard since 2007, said he took some snaps at center his rookie season – he was an undrafted rookie in 2004 – but until last week hadn't been used in that position. While every position on the offensive line requires physical fortitude, the center is the one making all the calls for the offensive, a new dynamic that made it a different feel for Herrera.
"Very much so. You really have to be in tune. Everything starts with you. Everything ends with you," he said. "… But to a point both our (offensive line) coaches teach everybody the same thing, so the guard should know what the tackle's doing, the guard should know what the center's doing. Like (when) you go from guard to tackle, there's little stuff that's different, but for the most part blocking's blocking."
With Brett Favre at quarterback and Jon Cooper at center, the first drive of Sunday night's game lasted only four plays and gained a net total of 9 yards. On the next drive, with Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback and Herrera at center, the Vikings offense experience its longest drive of the game – 12 plays, 60 yards and the only points (a field goal) of the game for the first- or second-team offense.
Herrera said he was able to take a little pride in helping engineer the best drive of the game for the Vikings.
"To a point, yeah. I was extremely happy that I was at center, we got it going and stuff went OK. We got three points out of it. We wanted seven, of course," he said. "A lot of times that's how first drives go: You have certain plays that coaches want to see with certain formations. It's not really that they're scheming to win; they want to see what's going on."
Herrera got a favorable review of his limited action there from head coach Brad Childress.
"He's trained there. He's got a real nice, firm snap. It's always a little bit different when you're playing with one hand out of it before the snap," Childress said. "I haven't seen anything to lead me to believe that he can't do that."
The Vikings entered training camp with precious few roster spots available. They also have decision to make on how many specialists they can keep. Herrera's versatility could help them with those choices and he may have just increased his value.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.