Sullivan missed nearly all of training camp last year and proceeded to miss the entire season because of two back surgeries. The first occurred in the preseason after his back flared up in training camp, but he was expected to return to action after being placed on injured reserve/designated to return.
But Sullivan tried to come back too soon and re-injured the back, requiring a second surgery that officially ended a frustrating season for him before it ever began.
Now, after going through 10 organized team activities and minicamp in May and June, Sullivan believes his back has been given enough of a test to instill confidence in his ability to play without apprehension of re-injury as the Vikings start training camp practices next Friday.
“I won’t really know until I step out on that field next Friday, but I think there was undoubtedly more (concern) going into OTAs,” Sullivan said Thursday at the Vikings’ new home at U.S. Bank Stadium. “You guys see OTA practices. There’s not a whole lot of difference between an OTA practice and no shoulder pads on and going out there and hitting, especially on the interior because you’re doing so much hand fighting and guys are still getting their jerseys snatched.
“I won’t say I was fully apprehensive, but I questioned it – is my back going to hold up as we go into OTAs and it did. My body held up great everywhere. I made it through totally unscathed and I feel really confident that I’m fully healed and ready to go.”
Although players aren’t allowed to practice in full pads during the offseason, they can start that ramp-up to the season three days into training camp. Still, Sullivan believes there isn’t much of a difference between non-padded and fully padded practices when it comes to the stress and test it put on his back.
“Not really. If you’re out there in a jersey, they’re actually able to grab more cloth during OTAs because the jersey is not tight because you don’t have shoulder pads on,” he said. “So you could say that there’s going to be theoretically more spinal compression banging shoulders to people. But on the interior we’re playing with our hands so much. It’s really wrestling and hand fighting and all that. It’s not like I’m in a huge collision spot every time. We’re hitting every play, but I’m not running and hitting every single play. I fully expect my back will stay healthy.”
Although the Vikings have a shortened version of training camp in Mankato this year because they leave early for their first preseason game and two joint practices with the Cincinnati Bengals before that game, Sullivan said he still dreads training camp.
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“Getting out of Mankato is always just a present in itself,” he said when asked about the feeling of having a new stadium to play in weeks after training camp ends. “… Year 9, you would think I’d be used to going down there, but I’ve got butterflies in my stomach knowing it’s just a week away. I can’t help it. I’m dreading going to Mankato; you just do that as a player for training camp. I’m excited. My wife keeps saying, well, you missed all last year and now you’re dreading Mankato? That doesn’t really make sense.’ I’m like, ‘Look, what do you want me to say? It’s training camp. I’m a football player. It’s just the way you feel about it.’”
But with all that happened last year with his back problems starting in training camp, he returns this year with confidence that the back issues are a thing of the past.