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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — NFL teams usually approach their third exhibition game as the most important of the preseason, for establishing a rhythm with their starters and better determining which backups are worthy of the roster.
For Anthony Herrera, this week’s game is a bigger deal than that.
He’ll play right guard for the Minnesota Vikings against Dallas on Saturday night, his first on-field action since tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in a game last November and undergoing reconstructive surgery. Herrera spoke to reporters after Thursday’s practice for the first time all year and said he’s excited for the opportunity to return to the lineup.
That’s about all he acknowledged.
“Just play football. It’s what I love to do,” Herrera said.
He said “it feels great” when asked about his knee and said “it’s just another day” when asked about the challenge of rehabilitation. Sometimes the eagerness of a player to return from a serious injury spawns a lengthy interview during which he’ll detail the drudgery of the exercises and describe the sadness of not being able to play.
Herrera was not in that kind of mood. His comments were brief and terse, and head coach Leslie Frazier offered a theory.
“He has something to prove, and he wants to prove something to everybody, including us as coaches, whether or not he can do it or not,” Frazier said. “We’re all excited to see him come back and play, and we’re all pulling for him.”
Herrera’s ability to return to his reliable self at age 31 after a serious injury — he also had an operation to repair a torn triceps muscle — will go a long way toward the success of Minnesota’s offensive line this season. Second-year player Chris DeGeare and utility backup Ryan Cook are the other options at that position, but no one has stood out during training camp.
As a more-expensive veteran, Herrera isn’t a lock to regain his roster spot if his performance isn’t acceptable for a team in need of more stability in the front five.
“He’s wearing a brace right now, so he has to get comfortable doing that again,” Frazier said. “Just being able to get that explosion back — that’s the one thing that takes a little bit longer when you’re coming off an ACL surgery.”
But Herrera, who made the team in 2004 as an undrafted free agent out of Tennessee and took over as a full-time starter in 2007, said he’s not worried about getting his post-op mojo back.
“I had no concerns. Neither did the coaches or the training staff,” Herrera said.
Herrera and cornerback Cedric Griffin, both returning from the same injury, are two big keys to the 2011 season for the Vikings. Both have kept quiet in camp, and their coach said he’s not surprised as they deal with the natural frustrations and anxieties about how they’ll recover.
“Not just the physical part, but emotionally and mentally feeling comfortable and playing with confidence,” Frazier said. “There’s going to be some trepidation early on.”
Notes: Frazier said Joe Webb would be the No. 2 quarterback against the Dallas Cowboys on Saturday, with rookie Christian Ponder up next. That job is still open, and the possible use of Webb as a runner or a receiver on certain plays wouldn’t affect whether the Vikings pick him to be Donovan McNabb’s primary backup, Frazier said. … In addition to TE Visanthe Shiancoe (hamstring) and DT Kevin Williams (foot), who were previously ruled out, RB Toby Gerhart (ankle), LB Heath Farwell (hamstring), CB Asher Allen (toe), LB Jasper Brinkley (hip), LB Mark Washington (shoulder) and LB Ross Homan (concussion) have been scratched for Saturday’s game.
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