For a lot of NFL players, the thought of moving from the sunny south to the frozen tundra of Minnesota is almost like being sent to Siberia. If given a choice, most wouldn't want to take it. Vikings offensive lineman Joe Berger jumped at the chance to come to Minnesota after five years in Miami, because he wanted to come back to Siberia.
"I grew up in Michigan, so coming back north to Minnesota was like coming home," Berger said. "I love the cold weather and the winters we have here – not so much this year, but most years. Some guys would think coming from Miami to Minnesota would be a shock to your system. I know Greg Camarillo was a little stunned by how cold it gets, but he spent his whole life in California and Florida. Being from Michigan, I had no problem with it. In fact, I was happy to come back to where it gets cold and you get snow."
Berger was brought in to be the latest incarnation of the Vikings O-line swingman, a guy capable of playing multiple line positions and allowing the team to use roster spots at other positions because they were comfortable with what he could do at center or either guard spot. Berger said there are unique aspects to each position that required some learning on his part.
"There are differences to each position," Berger said. "You practice at each of the three positions and, while you don't spend all your time at one of them, you spend quite a bit at each and pick up things from all of them. It's kind my role to be that guy – to be there where they need me. I think it's worked out pretty well."
In Miami, Berger was almost exclusively a center, the position he was brought to the Vikings to play in the event John Sullivan didn't return to his 2009 form after a tormented 2010 season that included multiple injuries on the field and the death of his father off the field. Berger's learning curve with the new offense was made easier by starting the process at center and eventually moving to both guard spots.
"For me the biggest benefit was starting at the center position," Berger said. "That's primarily where I played in Miami and here I started at center and kind of learned the offense from the middle of the line out. After that, it was just a matter of physically being able to move from spot to spot because each position is different."
It was no surprise that Berger was used as a swingman backup and has been used at both guard spots as an injury replacement for both Anthony Herrera and Steve Hutchinson. He expected that and had no choice but to be a jack of all trades along the interior of the offensive line. He is expected start again Sunday in the season finale for Hutchinson, who was placed on injured reserve this week. So far, he has started one game at center, four at right guard and Sunday will mark his second start at left guard.
"I knew that was going to be my role coming in here, so it hasn't been a problem and I've embraced the challenge of it," Berger said. "As a backup in the NFL, it's something you have to learn to do or you aren't going to be around very long. You either pick it up or they'll find somebody who can."
As part of his positional diversity, Berger has had to pick up on the nuances of each position. While they may appear to be interchangeable, there are numerous subtle differences between playing on the left side and the right side, especially when it comes to keeping his quarterback clean.
"The big difference is in pass protection," Berger said. "There can be a pretty big difference if the quarterback is lining up to your right or your left. They're almost like a mirror in that your assignment is almost completely opposite if you're on the right side or the left side. That's where you need the extra work to get your technique down. Run blocking is essentially the same wherever you are."
Given the recent injury histories of both Hutchinson and Herrera, having a versatile player like Berger to jump into either spot on a moment's notice has been a big benefit for the Vikings and Berger said he hopes he's found his home back in the Great White North from which he came.
"I love it here," Berger said. "It feels like home to me and I hope I can find a role with the Vikings for the rest of my career. If that happens, I couldn't ask for much more."
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.
Berger may have found a new (cold) home
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