NFL: Sullivan injury leaves another hole on Vikings' O-line
By Chris TomassonSt. Paul Pioneer Press MINNEAPOLIS -- Vikings coach Mike Zimmer was worried this week that center John Sullivan might miss Monday's opener at San Francisco. He underestimated. The Vikings on Thursday placed Sullivan on the reserv...
By Chris Tomasson
St. Paul Pioneer Press
MINNEAPOLIS - Vikings coach Mike Zimmer was worried this week that center John Sullivan might miss Monday’s opener at San Francisco.
The Vikings on Thursday placed Sullivan on the reserve/designated for return list with a back problem, meaning he must sit out at least the first seven games of the season. The soonest Sullivan can return is Nov. 8 against St. Louis, and that’s the plan, Zimmer said.
The six-year veteran had a lumbar microdiscectomy, a procedure to repair a herniated disc, on Wednesday. Monday will end a streak of 57 straight games for Sullivan, who last sat out Oct. 23, 2011, at Green Bay.
“While I’m incredibly disappointed that I’ll be missing the first portion of the 2015 season, I have full faith in the roster,” Sullivan said in a statement.
Journeyman Joe Berger, starting his 11th NFL season, will start at center Monday.
“Joe Berger will step in and do a great job,” Sullivan said. “I promise I’ll be doing everything I can to recover and I’ll be ready as soon as humanly possible to return to the field and help the Vikings win their first Super Bowl championship.”
Berger started nine games at right guard last season. Zimmer called center his “natural position.”
“Given time at any one position, I feel I can be comfortable there,” Berger said. “Last year, you guys asked the same question about right guard. At the time, maybe it wasn’t as comfortable. With some time there, I felt more comfortable.”
Berger started at center in Sullivan’s absence the last three preseason games. Sullivan missed Tuesday’s practice with what the team called back spasms, and hadn’t practiced since Aug. 18.
But the Vikings still were hoping it was a short-term injury.
“He was getting better,” Zimmer said. “He was running seven miles an hour on the treadmill in there, but we just couldn’t get him over the hump. ... He’s had a herniated disk, he had two epidurals.
“Typically, a lot of guys will recover after one epidural. ... After his second epidural, he was doing better and we were hopeful that he would get over the hump and he just never did. … I (initially) didn’t think I’d have him this week. …We were hoping that it wouldn’t come to this, but it did.”
The Vikings already were without starting right tackle Phil Loadholt, who suffered a season-ending Achilles’ tendon injury on the second play of an Aug. 15 preseason game against Tampa Bay.
Rookie T.J. Clemmings will start in Loadholt’s place. Mike Harris will make his first NFL start as a guard on Monday.
Still, Zimmer insisted he has “zero” concern about his offensive line.
“We expect guys to go in there and play,” he said. “They’ll do a good job. Berger has played for a long time. We had talked about doing a lot of different things when Sullivan was healthy, moving Berger to possibly (right) guard instead of Mike Harris, so actually this all worked out pretty good ... because Harris, he got all of the reps at right guard. Berger has been getting all the reps at center.”
Sullivan, 30, signed a one-year contract extension last spring and will make $7 million this season, then $5.5 million the next two years.
Because he’s on the return list, he won’t count against the 53-man roster but must sit out eight weeks. NFL teams can place one player there each season.
“You never want to see guys get injured, but luckily we have a veteran in Joe Berger,” quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said. “We’re going to miss Sully, but the offense isn’t going to change.”
Zimmer declined to speculate on what the Vikings might do with the open roster spot but noted that cornerback Jabari Price, suspended for two games, is eligible to be restored to the roster for Week 3.
Minnesota’s other starters on the line are left tackle Matt Kalil and left guard Brandon Fusco, the only two starters remaining from last year’s opener.
“Obviously, it’s a tough loss, but we’re ready to go forward,” Kalil said. “(Sullivan’s) the leader of the offensive line, but that’s the way football goes. ... We’ve had the same offensive line the last three weeks and feel comfortable working together. Either way it’s a big loss, but we’re better prepared to handle it.”
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