Berger found career revival in ninth year

Retirement had crossed Joe Berger’s mind, but new opportunities in 2014 changed his mind.

Joe Berger considered 2014 “for the most part” a good year for him personally, even if his Minnesota Vikings suffered plenty of injuries and uneven play on the offensive line. In reality, it may have been a career-extending season for the interior offensive lineman.

Berger entered his ninth NFL season entrenched as a veteran backup, but getting the chance to play meaningful minutes – and games – has him rethinking his immediate future.

“I thought about coming in (to the 2014) season and maybe this would be my last, but getting to play nine games I don’t really want to be done now,” Berger after the Vikings’ season had ended.

Last March was the second straight trip into free agency in which Berger signed a one-year contract with the Vikings, a veteran minimum deal that allowed him to be paid an $840,000 salary and a $65,000 signing bonus but count only $620,000 against the salary cap. It turned out to be a wise move on both sides.

After playing in only 20 percent of the offensive snaps in 2013 as a backup center and guard, Berger was called into duty much more often in 2014. A concussion to John Sullivan in Week 7 required 51 snaps from Berger at center, and when Sullivan returned the next week, Berger took over the starting duties at right guard, a spot initially occupied by Brandon Fusco, whose season ended after a Week 3 injury. Vladimir Ducasse initially replaced Fusco, but Berger got the call after that and performed admirably.

Once Berger got the chance to start at right guard, he never let the starting spot go. He ended up starting nine games, the most in his four seasons with the Vikings and the second-most in his nine-year career.

By the end of it, he could feel the physical toll, but getting to play again gave him a renewed energy for the game.

“I feel like I got to start nine games on the offensive line in the NFL. You feel sore, banged up, and rest will be nice,” he said. “I’ll be excited to get back, hopefully here, for another year.”

There is a bit of uncertainty, however, as Berger is scheduled to be a free agent once again, but at least now he has plenty of game film for Mike Zimmer’s coaching staff to evaluate.

“I think from their perspective, they want guys that can play, so if you’re on the bench it’s hard to show that you can still play,” Berger said. “So I think any time you can get on the field, if you can play at a good level, that certainly helps.”

All total, Berger played in almost 60 percent of the offensive snaps and over 20 percent of the special teams snaps.

He had a new offensive coordinator with the hiring of Norv Turner but his offensive line coach remained the same during the coaching turnover.

“Football is football. There’s only so much you can do with it. The systems are different. At the end of the day, you learn,” Berger said. “You game plan every week anyway, so you learn the system for that week and go do it. We’ve proven that this system can be effective.

“I think you can look back at the year and see progression in the right direction. I think that’s pretty clear. I think there’s a good foundation set.”

Which is one of the reasons Berger would like to return, but he knows the decision isn’t just up to him. The Vikings have to want him back, and he will be 33 years old next season.

“You’ve got to keep everything open, but I’ve enjoyed my time here,” he said. “It’s nice to be able to stay in the same place. So obviously that plays a factor. I think it’s safe to say this would be my first choice. Obviously a lot of things have to fall in place for that to come true.”

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