Birk, Chamberlain Two Offensive Bright Spots

Center Matt Birk and tight end Byron Chamberlain both needed the chance to start to prove they could play in the NFL. Once they got it, they have proved they can be among the elite at their respective positions this season.

Any analysis of the Vikings offense in search of bright spots would have to start with center Matt Birk in an otherwise bleak season.

Birk has been a rock all season as the man in the middle and has become a special player. In a season riddled with injuries and a lack of consistency, especially on the offensive line, Birk has been one of the team's most consistent performers this year.

His performance this season was validated by a second consecutive Pro Bowl honor this week with his selection as the starting center on this year's NFC squad (however, he will not be playing because his wedding is scheduled for the day before the Feb. 9 Pro Bowl). He was a backup on last year's Pro Bowl team.

Birk has established himself as one of the premier centers in the league. Pro Bowler or not, he's been the anchor for this team all season.

"He's 25 years old, one of the better players at his position in the National Football League," said head coach Dennis Green, who thought enough of Birk sign him to a seven-year, $30 million contract extension just before the season. "I think he is really maturing into being a really long-range, long-term dependable player. He has played better this year than he did last year."

What many love about Birk is his maturity, especially in this age of today's professional athlete. He's more concerned about what his head coach (Green) and his position coach (Mike Tice) think of him, and the standard he sets for himself, than whether or not he gets a free trip to Hawaii.

Another key cog has been tight end Byron Chamberlain. If things had gone better for the Vikings this season, there would have been a lot of attention paid to the addition of Chamberlain, who's been an outstanding complement to the offense and easily the finest pass-catching tight end the Vikings have had since Steve Jordan was in his prime.

"He really has been," Green said. "(He's) just a very fine receiver that can run after the catch. He fits into our system real well. It's a shame we didn't have the kind of offensive productivity that we're accustomed to. But I think he definitely helped us and was instrumental in most of the games we won."

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