Center John Sullivan says it is up to others to judge how well he has played this year, although it's clear he is pleased to be making solid progress and admits this is the healthiest he has been.
Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said Sullivan is playing "really well" this year and said there was an adjustment period for him in the first half of the season, going from a previous offensive scheme, a different offensive line coach and different techniques being asked of him.
"Yes, there was a break-in process, I would imagine, and learning the way we would prefer to do things, whether they're right or wrong as opposed to the way he was coached previously," Musgrave said. "So you're right, there's definitely a transition process there."
Musgrave figures Sullivan became comfortable with the new style of play sometime in the first half of the season. But Sullivan is only one of the group of offensive linemen learning to adjust to the new way of doing things. Just as Christian Ponder and the skill-position players didn't have an opportunity to work with Vikings coaches during the offseason because of the NFL lockout, the same held true with the linemen.
Sullivan and other offensive linemen acknowledged there is a new philosophy up front.
"I just think it's from the scheme. The new scheme allows us to do that, and that was a big focus for our coaching staff – don't make us think too much, just let us go out there and play," Sullivan said, pointing to new offensive line coach Jeff Davidson.
"Sometimes stuff gets a little complex, but the effort to make it simple is what I appreciate. It's still NFL football. Defenses do a lot of things. Sometimes you're forced to react to them. He tries to break it down for me so it's as easy as possible."
Right guard Anthony Herrera also has an appreciation for Davidson's style. For Herrera, it's the way Davidson approaches his teaching.
"I think Jeff's really good at taking what you're really good at and helping you get better at it. If you're not good at something, he finds it and we work on it to get better," Herrera said. "It's not necessarily changing and everything is going to be my way. He's not that type of guy. He doesn't have an ego. It's getting you better as a player. That's all he cares about."
Davidson played three years for the Denver Broncos, protecting John Elway's blindside as a 16-game starter in 1992 and 1993 at left guard and left tackle, and a final NFL season with the New Orleans Saints in 1994 before an injury cut his career short. From there, he made the transition into the coaching ranks, spending the next two years with the Saints, eight years with the New England Patriots, two with the Cleveland Browns and the last four with the Carolina Panthers.
There is no doubt the Vikings' players appreciate his playing background.
"He was a player, so obviously he's got a different way of seeing things," Sullivan said. "He can relate to the way that we're seeing the game. He tries to make it as simple for us as possible so that we can just go out there and focus on being aggressive, as opposed to overthinking things and therefore playing slow. Most importantly, he keeps a positive attitude about everything. It's all positive thinking and seeing yourself being successful in your assignments."
The progress with the finished product has been slow. While Sullivan seems to be having his best season as a pro, Phil Loadholt has been inconsistent at right tackle, the right guard spot has seen Herrera in and out of the lineup with injuries, Charlie Johnson replaced a Pro Bowl talent like Bryant McKinnie at left tackle, and even left guard Steve Hutchinson has shown signs of aging.
The Vikings have spent the most of the season near the bottom of the STATS LLC ranking of offensive line pass protection, but a change in schemes and coaches can take time to round into form.
Herrera indicated that the talk about change in scheme might be overblown.
"I don't care about what anybody says, what the media says. I heard in the offseason a lot of media guys were talking about, ‘I don't like how they do the zone scheme. I don't like how they do this, how they do that.' Well, every team has the same plays. It is what it is," Herrera said. "Every team runs a G scheme, every team runs a lead scheme, every team runs a zone scheme. We still run zone, we still run leads and we still run G schemes. We did it in the past regime. We're running it now.
"I would say the only approach that's different is that we would rather have teams adjust to us."
And once the Vikings' offensive linemen are fully adjusted to all of the changes around them, the adjustment should start paying dividends on the field.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Linemen appreciate Davidson's approach
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