By Joseph Gunther
The Minnesota Vikings placed another offensive lineman on injured reserve before the season began. At least this time it is with the designation to return. Center John Sullivan will miss the first eight weeks of the season, six weeks before he can practice again, after undergoing a lumbar microdisectomy to repair a herniated disc.
The Vikings are already without expected starting right tackle Phil Loadholt (torn achilles) and reserve hopeful Carter Bykowski (torn pectoral muscle). They were placed on season-ending injured reserve between the team’s second and third preseason games.
Sullivan, who hasn’t practiced since Aug. 18, had received two epidurals, but had the rehab process stall before deciding to have surgery.
“He was doing better,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “He was running. Typically, you treat these conservatively because if you don’t, you could end up having the surgery. You want to take your time to see if it heals. And he just got to a point where he was getting better but he couldn’t get over the hump.”
Long-time backup interior offensive lineman Joe Berger will get the first opportunity to start in place of Sullivan. The 11th-year veteran gets the nod over first-year player Zac Kerin. The latter spent all of last season on the Vikings’ practice squad as an undrafted rookie. Berger became the natural replacement after stabilizing the offensive line at right guard after injuries took their toll last season.
“To get put in this role, I’m embracing it,” Berger said. “I’m looking forward to it, for however long it lasts. We hope John heals up quick and gets back when he can. He’ll be missed when he’s gone. I know he was working like crazy to try to get back. For whatever reason, the decision came down that this was the right thing to do.”
Even though the Vikings will have new starters at right tackle (rookie T. J. Clemmings), right guard (former tackle Mike Harris), center (Berger) and left guard (former right guard Brandon Fusco), Zimmer is not worried about the unit.
“No concern at all,” he said. “Just like I said the other day, we expect guys to go in there and play. So they’ll do a good job. Berger has played for a long time.
“So actually this all worked out pretty good the way it ended up happening. Harris, he got all the reps at right guard. Berger’s been getting all of the reps at center, which is basically his natural position.”
The Vikings got better injury news Thursday when defensive tackle Shamar Stephen returned to practice, albeit in a limited capacity. He began training camp on the non-football injury list because of a swollen knee. He was able to practice and play in the preseason opener on Aug. 9, but has not practiced since. Despite the injury, the Vikings kept just four defensive tackles and the 2014 seventh round draft pick is the first backup at nose tackle behind Linval Joseph.
Probable (75 percent chance player will play):
Chase Ford, tight end (shoulder)
Zach Line, fullback (knee)
MyCole Pruitt, tight end (ankle)
Shamar Stephen, defensive tackle (knee)
Joseph Gunther is an avid fan of Minnesota sports, including football, hockey and baseball. He covered a wide variety of sports while attending Hastings College in Hastings, Neb. While at Hastings College, he was a part of the first collegiate media group to broadcast a national tournament via television, radio, internet and newspaper at the 2004 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball Tournament. He grew up in the Twin Cities playing three years of varsity football in high school. Joseph is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.