There are certain players on every NFL team that serve as a human version of a Swiss Army knife. There are guys who contribute in two of the three phases of the game as a special teams ace and contributor on either offense or defense.
When it comes to the offensive line, the Minnesota Vikings have had a long history of players that could fill in multiple positions, from Everett Lindsey to Artis Hicks to Joe Berger before he got the permanent job at center.
The Mr. Versatility of 2016 for the Vikings has been Jeremiah Sirles. In the first half of the season, he has been pressed into action at right tackle when Matt Kalil went down (causing a rotation at tackle), right guard when he needed to replace Brandon Fusco and left guard while Alex Boone was in the concussion protocol.
In each instance, he has held up quite well and, while being pushed into a new position can be a problem for some linemen, when asked if he has a difficult adjustment from tackle to guard, Sirles was philosophical and realistic in his response.
“Yes and no,” Sirles said. “It’s just kind of what I’ve learned I have to do. Whatever I can do to help this team win is what I’ll do.”
There are some teams that don’t believe in making a lineman a jack of all trades, but a master of none. The Vikings aren’t one of those. They typically find a way to save a roster spot to use elsewhere by having a valuable swingman available to fill in at different positions. This season, that man has been Sirles.
When getting work at so many positions, there is no such thing as a typical work week. But Sirles credits offensive line coach Tony Sparano with being able to emphasize the position he is most likely to see action, but finding time each week to keep him up to speed on the other spots as well.
“You kind of rotate around wherever you need to go,” Sirles said. “Tony does a nice job of making sure that he’s not going to throw you somewhere that you haven’t practiced a lot at. He does a nice job of moving me around and when you do a scout-team period, you can get extra work at different positions, so that helps.”
It takes the right mental makeup for a player to take on the swingman role because the player often sacrifices the legitimate chance to win a starting job if he spends 100 percent of his time at a single position.
But Sirles has been a valued member of the team because, as injuries have popped up all along the offensive line, he has been able to keep there from being a huge drop-off when the starter got injured.
“It’s come in handy for me and I hope that it has come in handy for the team,” Sirles said. “They keep you around because you can do certain things that can help the team win and I felt that I’ve been able to go out there, perform the best I can and improve on things I need to work on.”
Having had experience at both guard positions and right tackle, it would be natural that he would be more comfortable at one or another. Even in college, Sirles showed the versatility that got him drafted by the San Diego Chargers, starting at both left and right tackle.
As a rookie, he was expected to be a backup tackle but was quickly incorporated in at the guard position, making a start at right guard late in the season.
With the Vikings, his versatility has become so necessary that he doesn’t have a position that he feels most comfortable at because he hasn’t spent his full time at one position for more than a week or two.
“At this point, it’s really all the same,” Sirles said. “You get work at wherever you are needed the most that week. It’s good to know where you going to be getting the most work, because there are a lot of differences from the left side to the right side. Mentally, you’ve got to flip it in your head. Sometimes, that’s the hardest part. You get so used to hearing a play call and you think to yourself that this is my job on the right side. But, when you’re on the left side, you may be on the back side of that play and your responsibility is completely different. You have to really focus in on it mentally.”
With Boone released from the concussion protocol and prepared, Sirles is going to start Sunday’s game at Washington back on the sidelines waiting for the next time his number is called.
His isn’t the standard NFL job, but he has seen a lot of players who were pigeonholed at one position be victims of roster cut-downs, while he has not only survived but thrived in his role as the O-line jack of all trades.
“I figured out quite a while ago that if I was going to have a long NFL career, I was going to have to be versatile,” Sirles said. “Some guys just want to stay in one spot and get everything down from there. I’m willing to go wherever I’m needed and I think I’ve been able to show my value to the team because I can play on either side or at guard or tackle. That’s how my career has gone and I’m more than willing to accept the challenge because it’s what I need to do to have a long career.”