Minnesota Vikings center John Sullivan is making his comeback after missing the entire 2015 season. He was forced to have surgery on a herniated disc in his back after it wouldn’t heal naturally, and then had a setback when trying to get back to full strength and get back out onto the field.
Sullivan will turn 31 in early August, and there were some who were questioning whether or not he would be able to come back from a back injury at his age. There were even some times when he was wondering the same thing himself.
“I had times where I’d question whether I’d be able to play,” he said, “but I knew if I recovered, there was no question in my mind that I was going to come back and play this year.”
Everything is looking good with him so far, as he has been working with the first-team offense through organized team activities, minicamp and now into training camp.
“Sully’s been doing a nice job this spring,” said Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer. “He really worked hard in the time he was injured in the offseason, so we’re looking forward to him continue to progress (from) where he left off.”
The two biggest tests left for Sullivan are the team’s first padded practice, on July 31, where he will have to go up against the likes of Linval Joseph and Sharif Floyd. Those are two big, strong players that he will have to try and block and it will only be more difficult once the pads come on.
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The other test is their first preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Aug. 12. It’s always hard to simulate the speed and intensity of a game, and he will never really know how his back stands up until he’s in the middle of the trenches on game day.
Sullivan understands that there are still some risks, but his body is feeling good and he feels like he is ready to go. He knows what to expect entering into his ninth season, so he isn’t worried about playing in a game once the pads come on.
“Look, it’s an inherently dangerous job, to a certain extent, though there are more dangerous jobs out there,” he said. “And I’m very fortunate to be able to play and my body feels good. I’m not being told by my body that it’s time to stop, so I’m going to keep coming out here and do what I enjoy.”
Sullivan was never a player who had to rely on dominating his opponent with an overwhelming amount of strength. He has always been a player that has been able to read a defense before the snap of the ball and use his intelligence to win his battles. That is not something that is going to go away because of a back injury, and if anything it has only gotten better as he has gotten older.
Zimmer knows this and it is one of the reasons why he is so excited to get his center back out onto the field.
“Well, John is a very, very intelligent person, and that may be his strength as a football player,” the head coach explained. “He communicates very well. He sees things good. He is able to make adjustments very, very quickly. So, those things are really what we miss. I’m not saying Joe (Berger) doesn’t do a good job with that, but Coach (Tony) Sparano said one day that, ‘Sullivan’s brilliant; just ask him.’ But he is brilliant.”
There still might be a couple struggles for Sullivan in the couple months as he continues to learn to trust his back again, but from all accounts he is ready to go. He has done everything that has been asked of his up to this point and his body is telling him it’s good to go.