Injuries are a part of the NFL and having a backup plan, even for the biggest of superstars, is a must for any NFL team. While much of the focus this season has been on the injured hip of Sidney Rice, knee injuries in the secondary and Brett Favre's ailing ankle and elbow, not as much attention has been put on injuries at the center position.
Starter John Sullivan has been at the center of the injury problem. He went down very early in training camp and missed all of the preseason with a calf injury. The result has been a revolving door at center.
In the final preseason game, the Vikings moved starting right guard Anthony Herrera to center and started rookie Chris DeGeare at guard. When the regular season began, Sullivan was back in the starting lineup. When he was injured once again, backup Ryan Cook was given the starting nod. Like Herrera, Cook had never played center in the NFL despite being a four-year college starter in the middle. His play suffered against the Jets and coaches saw something they didn't like, handing the job over to Jon Cooper, who came in for the second half and held up well.
"It felt good to get my opportunity and take advantage of it," Cooper said. "That's what you wait for when you're a backup – to get your chance to show what you can do. I got the chance to get on the field and get it on tape. I'm just going to roll with it. If Sully gets back and can play, that's great. If not, I have to be ready to step in against a tough Dallas Cowboys team. I'm going prepare like I'm going to be the guy."
It looks and sounds like he will be the guy. Sullivan didn't practice again on Wednesday and Childress said Cooper has moved ahead of Cook on the depth chart at center.
"Coop played decently. I don't think we had center-quarterback exchange issues that I'm aware of there. We didn't talk about it much but I thought he played OK," Childress said Tuesday.
Cooper said he didn't lose faith during the early September scramble when both Herrera and Cook were given the opportunity to win the job. He said he didn't get frustrated and understood why the team went with Cook when Sullivan went down during the Detroit game.
"It's all a numbers game," Cooper said. "With Cook, he's such a versatile player. He can play all given line positions. You've got to be prepared for anything. When Sully went down, he was the first option to take his place. This time around, I got the call at halftime. I was waiting my turn and jumped at the chance."
He said he felt good about his transition into the starting lineup and thought he graded out pretty well. He said he had little problem delivering the ball to Favre and making the line calls, despite not working with the Hall of Fame quarterback all that much since his late arrival the last two years.
"I've been doing that for awhile and he's very comfortable with me snapping him the ball," Cooper said. "I've done it hundreds of times, even with limited reps, so that was never an issue."
For an undrafted free agent that isn't all that well known to casual Vikings fans, Cooper said he is excited about the challenge and is looking forward to his first full week taking first-team reps.
"I've waited a long time for this chance," Cooper said. "This is a game of opportunity. If you aren't a starter, you wait for your chance to get out there, help the team and show the coaches what you are capable of doing. I've tried to do that in the time I've been here and it looks like it's going to pay off. If Sully comes back and can play, that would be great for the team. But whether he does or doesn't, we're still going to be out there playing Dallas. I'm ready to contribute whatever I can – whether it's as the starter, as a backup or as a special teamer. You have to be ready when you get the call and I will definitely be ready for Sunday – regardless of what they want me to do."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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