There are certain players who are constantly hounded and surrounded by media types. If you’re big enough – like Adrian Peterson and Teddy Bridgewater – you have specially designed press conferences to get all the questions out of the way at the same time.
Vikings offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirles isn’t in that group of players. Acquired in a trade with San Diego the day before the final roster cut-downs were announced, he has had very few interview requests – much less the throng of reporters and TV cameras that surround his locker.
When the first reporter came up to ask him if he had a couple of minutes to answer questions, his response was, “Really?” Seconds later, his eyes grew wide as he was surrounded by reporters, looking quizzically until someone asked about being a former Charger playing against his old team.
“That makes sense now,” Sirles said. “I was very confused as to why you were all here. I was like, ‘What do you want?’ I was thinking to myself that I haven’t done anything wrong to get all these guys coming around.”
Sirles spent 11 weeks on San Diego’s practice squad last year and was hopeful of making the final roster. As a Colorado native who played his college football at Nebraska, he was loving it in San Diego – “I got sunburned on Christmas last year,” Sirles said – but the business of football intervened and he found out he was going to be a Viking rather than a Charger.
As a player who spent the entire preseason on the Chargers roster, he has an insight to the Chargers that the Vikings don’t. Even though Norv Turner was the head coach of the Chargers, he hasn’t been around the team for three years and Sirles was with them until earlier this month.
One thing he knows better than anyone is the importance of Philip Rivers to the Chargers offense. An emotional, vocal veteran leader, Sirles knows that if you’re going to beat San Diego, frustrating Rivers will be critical.
“He’s a great guy and great quarterback,” Sirles said. “He’s been around a lot, so he has seen a lot. He really is where it starts and ends for them.”
One of the best things the Vikings have going for them Sunday is that San Diego will be without future Hall of Famer Antonio Gates, who is midway through a four-game league suspension.
Of all the insight he can provide, arguably the most impactful is just how lucky the Vikings are that Gates won’t be in uniform. Not only is he as critical as any tight end this side of Rob Gronkowski, but the shorthand that Rivers and Gates have is one that is its most critical on third downs and in the red zone.
“He’s a big part of that offense,” Sirles said. “He’s a really smart guy who works a lot. I think that they’ve adjusted well (during his suspension), but he’s a big-time player in that offense, so it hurts them not having him.”
The value that Sirles can provide to the Vikings isn’t just limited to the intel he can provide. He is next in line to back up a couple of positions. When Brandon Fusco missed Wednesday’s practice as part of the league’s concussion protocol, Sirles was being looked at as his potential replacement if he didn’t come back. That remained the case on Friday as Fusco returned to a full participant in practice but was listed as questionable on the injury report.
Head coach Mike Zimmer said that Sirles is being used much in the same way Joe Berger was used prior to John Sullivan’s injury, getting time at three line positions. Sirles has been working at both guard spots and right tackle and Zimmer is convinced he can handle any of them.
“He’s a big guy who keeps his feet moving, is athletic – he’s got some toughness to him,” Zimmer said. “We’ve been practicing him at three positions actually.”
Offensive line play is all about technique and consistency, and Sirles is acutely aware of the little things that his linemates in San Diego struggled with. He can talk about Rivers, Gates, Keenan Allen, Melvin Gordon or Stevie Johnson, but his value is more to the Vikings defensive line than anyone else.
“I think the biggest help I can be is letting guys know what the offensive linemen do – their strengths and weaknesses,” Sirles said. “Some guys like different moves and I can spot that on film, but I’m sure they know that. They’re not stupid over there, so I’m sure they’re going to change things up a little bit from what I was used to seeing.”
Sirles is hesitant to completely drop dime on what he knows because, in the covert game of the NFL, there is always the belief that the opponent knows your secrets. As a result, any information Sirles provides could be counteracted by the Chargers. The question becomes how much counterintelligence will the information provide?
“It may be a little bit of a benefit if they’re overthinking what they’re doing, but that goes both ways,” Sirles said. “We don’t want to overthink on our end based on what they’ve done before or their tendencies. Football is a game that is all about read and react. When you can have cues, you can have cheats, but at the end of the day, you have to line up and play.”
On Sept. 4, Sirles was a member of the San Diego Chargers fighting for a roster spot. A little more than three weeks later, he’s in the enemy camp and, as far as the Chargers know, he’s spilling his guts.
Maybe he is. Maybe he isn’t. Let them think about it, because, while he has some lifelong friends on the team, come Sunday, it’s a cold war out there and he’s no longer wearing the lightning bolt.
“Nothing personal against those guys, but we’re here to go 1-0 against the San Diego Chargers,” Sirles said. “I’m excited to be a Viking.”