The season-ending knee injury to Anthony Herrera Sunday in the loss to the Packers was the root cause of a domino effect at the guard position. Ryan Cook went from backup to starter, and now rookie Chris DeGeare goes from inactive to being active on the game-day roster while Patrick Brown was elevated from the practice squad to 53-man roster.
The ripple effect has created its own set of challenges, primarily for Cook and DeGeare. Cook, the former starting right tackle, has assumed the role that Artis Hicks performed for the team the previous two seasons – a versatile swingman who could step in at multiple positions. Hicks could play four positions. Thanks to being a center in college, Cook can play all five.
Cook said his role with the team has changed considerably, as he gets reps at all of the line positions, essentially making him a jack of all trades, but the master of none. It's a role every team has with a lineman and he is that player with the Vikings. It's become a matter of biding his time and, when and if somebody goes down – be it a tackle, guard or center – he has to be prepared to step in and maintain the integrity of the position.
"It's one of those things where you have to be ready for anything," Cook said. "A couple of weeks ago when I got thrown in the Detroit game, it's the same situation as last week. I have one position to focus on now and it's right guard."
Cook said his role with the team has changed markedly since he lost his starting job to Phil Loadholt last season. But he said that he has kept busy during practices, because he takes reps at so many different positions that he is on the field almost as much as when he was starting. He'll do a day at left guard when Steve Hutchinson needs a day off. He has filled in for John Sullivan at center and now he's the main man at right guard.
"It's kind of a consistent pattern every week of how many reps I get during the week at different spots," Cook said. "Every position has its little nuances and different techniques that change. That's what I'm focusing on this week is narrowing those down and keeping the focus just on that."
The Herrera injury has also made for busy days for DeGeare, who has been something of an afterthought in his rookie season. He has been inactive for eight of the team's 10 games and has spent most of his practice time working on special teams. With Cook moving up to the starting spot, DeGeare effectively takes over his role as a swingman on the O-line as well as special-teams and scout-team duties that he is called upon to do.
He said he is looking forward to increased workload and hopes that he can catch the eye of the coaching staff and begin the process of opening the door for him to get starting consideration.
"When you have a player of Anthony's caliber that goes down, players like myself have to step up," DeGeare said. "I've been active for only two games this year – mostly playing special teams – so now is my time to show that I know the playbook and can execute."
Having been active for only two games, DeGeare said there has been a certain level of frustration. He knows it's part of a mid-round rookie earning his stripes, but said for those young players who see little to no playing time, it's an adjustment they've had to make without the benefit of personal experience.
"I've never been on the bench in my life, so it's something that me and a lot of the other guys have to get used to," DeGeare said. "It's definitely a different animal, but I've learned to accept it. Just about everybody has had to go through it. It can be somewhat frustrating, but I've learned to deal with it."
While DeGeare is going through the process of adjusting to the NFL, Cook's story has been the opposite. Acquired with the 2006 draft pick the Vikings obtained from Miami for Daunte Culpepper, Cook was anointed as the starting right tackle in his second season and held the job for two years – with marginally mixed results. His position was viewed as a liability on the offensive line and, with Matt Birk gone in 2009, the Vikings drafted Phil Loadholt with the intention of giving him Cook's starting spot.
That meant Cook went from being a starter on a playoff team in the NFL to being a reserve who rarely saw the field. His mindset was forced to change. No longer was he preparing for his weekly assignment at right tackle. He had to work on potentially returning to center, still playing right tackle or potentially playing at either guard spot.
"That's part of the business," Cook said with a shug. "You have to know going in that unexpected things are going to happen throughout your career. There are always those peaks and valleys where you have your downs and ups. You have to look for those ups. When those come around, it's a golden opportunity for me personally to take control of that position, contribute to the team and help it be successful."
Cook said the demotion was a shot at his pride as a professional, but he said that part of the job is accepting bad news and using it as motivation to improve and get better. Had he become embittered or defiant about being pulled as the starting right tackle, it could have ended his career. But he said that, at times, you have to accept your position for what it is and make the best of a bad personal situation to keep the team as strong and deep as possible.
"That's something nobody ever wants to hear, that you are no longer starting and you're going to be in a backup role," Cook said. "That's always a tough pill to swallow. But you've got to stay positive, keep working at your craft and eventually the opportunity will arise at some point."
The fact that Cook is being plugged in at right guard is somewhat ironic in that it's the one line position that he has the least personal experience playing. A college center and NFL right tackle who has seen spot duty at left guard and left tackle, the only experience he has had during his entire football career from pee-wee ball to the Vikings has been during training camp and last Sunday.
But, he said that he has learned to adapt to his fate – taking the lemons handed him and making lemonade. He believes that his ability to hold up at all five line positions may, in some ways, give him more roster value than if he only played center, right tackle, etc.
"Being able to do a lot of things makes you valuable," Cook said. "You can take roster spots at other positions and bring guys up on (the game day roster) to help on special teams. You can fill more than one spot. But at the end of the day, you have to produce at whatever position you're at and I'm trying to do that."
Five years removed from playing center, it is no longer his natural position. It's been two years since he played right tackle more than a series or two. Does he have a natural position at this point?
"I don't know," Cook said. "I like to consider myself very versatile, but this is the position I'm focusing on now, and moving forward that's the position I'll be playing."
With a chance to resurrect his career over the final six weeks of the regular season and, Cook sees this as his chance to reclaim what he once had. It may be at a different position, but he expects to make an impression with what he puts on film the next six weeks. When asked if there is a position he feels most comfortable with, Cook could only chuckle and respond honestly – he feels the most comfortable at the position that currently has a vacancy.
"It's hard to say," he said with a smile. "Right guard is the position I'm going to be most comfortable at."
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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