Herrera's Main Health Concern Is Behind Him

Backup offensive lineman has put his staph infection in his leg behind him and is looking to get back to complete health. Meanwhile, another offensive lineman has gotten comforting news about his premature twins while a third lineman is getting accustomed to his new team, and Daunte Culpepper is excited to get the regular season started.

Offensive lineman Anthony Herrera is ready to get back to his tasks on the football field after a staph infection derailed his training camp.

Herrera, a second-year player who made the 53-man roster last year as an undrafted rookie, spent a week in a Mankato hospital last month because of a staph infection his right leg that was caused by a cut from a cleat. Herrera was taken to the hospital at 3 a.m. Aug. 14 after he awoke in severe pain and with his leg swollen.

"I got spiked on it and then it healed up," he said of the original injury that led to the infection. "It was just at little scratch, and then after the (first preseason) game on Friday, I was feeling good. Saturday I came back to Mankato. It just started throbbing, and as the night went on it just got worse and worse."

He went into the hospital the following morning and spent a week there, three days after the Vikings were finished practicing in Mankato.

"I thought it was just going to be a two-day thing. But as the days went on, they would say, ‘OK, well, we're going to wait until tomorrow and see what happens before we let you out.' It was a frustrating process because I really didn't know what was going on," Herrera said this week. "Something like this has never happened to me before. I've never seen it happen to anyone around me before."

Herrera said he was concerned at times that he might never make it back out onto an NFL practice field, but he said the medical staff ruled that out well before he could erase that negative thought from his own mind.

Before the injury, Herrera had impressed head coach Mike Tice and offensive line coach Steve Loney with his performance. Tice had planned to use Herrera some with the first team at center, splitting time with Cory Withrow as starter Matt Birk was out with a hip injury.

Instead, Herrera's football progress was sidetracked while in the hospital. He is finally getting back on the practice field.

"Last week it was just the same old problem, swelling and my range of motion," he said.

This week he was still limited in practice, but at least he had returned to the field with the rest of his teammates.

Despite now being a third-string center, he said he wasn't too worried about his spot on the roster while biding time in a hospital bed.

With the acquisition of Melvin Fowler, who has assumed the No. 2 role at center, Herrera figures to get practice time at both center and guard now. "Like Coach Loney and Coach Tice say, being a backup here you have to play multiple positions. … Plus, I never looked at myself as just a one-position guy," Herrera said.

Herrera spent the first of last season on the practice squad, when he began to take limited reps at center. But his first steady work at the position started with minicamps and developmental camps this spring.

"I think center is the hardest position to play because you have so much you have to worry about. But that takes care of itself once you're in the system. Once you get comfortable with the offense and get comfortable with yourself playing, everything gets easy and you don't have to think anymore. Now it's just off of reactions," he said.

"I'm still thinking a little bit. This my first real year playing center. Last year they had me doing it a little bit when I was on practice squad, but I think Coach Tice, Coach Loney and myself have done a good job preparing and studying. That's the biggest thing for me right now. I plan on being in the books every day … so when I go out on the field, mentally it's not challenging."

Physically, he hopes he over the worst of his setbacks.


It didn't take Fowler, who was acquired over the weekend in a trade with Cleveland, long to work into the No. 2 role at center. Fowler has assumed that role already this week, as Herrera has moved to third on the depth chart while Adam Goldberg has moved to a backup at guard.
Fowler started 14 of his 30 games with Cleveland, most of them as an injury fill-in.

"I was able to do some positive things and collect a couple of starts, but I feel as if I needed to start over and have a new beginning," Fowler said.

Surprisingly, Fowler said he didn't think it would take him long to learn the Vikings' system, even at the heady position of center.

"I just learned a new system at Cleveland a couple months ago and I was pretty comfortable after the first week," he said, but later added, "In the offense I just came from, the center didn't have as much responsibility as this they do in this offense. It will probably be a little tougher."

He still has hopes of assuming the starting role at some point since Matt Birk is out for the season.

"I'm just going to practice hard and hopefully put myself into position to be a No. 2 or No. 1 center," Fowler said.

For now, the starting position belongs to Withrow. Who ends up with it by midseason is anybody's guess.

Either way, Fowler said things were going well in Cleveland before the trade that sent him to Minnesota and former Vikings tackle Nat Dorsey to the Browns.

"Everything went well. I made it to the main roster, but the day after that I received a phone call saying that I'd been traded to Minnesota," Fowler said. "I spoke with (Cleveland coach) Romeo Crennel (early in the week) and he said he was very pleased with my work ethic. Things didn't really go bad in Cleveland."


Shannon Snell is another backup offensive lineman who had to miss some training camp to attend to a health concern. But in Snell's case, the concern was for his premature twins.

His daughter Madison is doing well, Snell said. She is out of the hospital, but his son Kaleb will probably still be in the hospital another six weeks, he estimates.

"He had something wrong with the aorta in his heart, so they actually had to go in and work on it. It was due to him being premature and that's a normal surgery, but they had to do it," Snell said.

There were also concerns originally with Madison – "she had some sort of sleep deprivation," Snell said – but she has recovered and is at home with her mother now.

The twins are the first children for Shannon, who had to take time away from his rookie training camp, but after only a few days away he returned to life on the gridiron.

"Every day you go out there thinking about it. It was hard. We just pushed through it and everything is OK now," he said.

"It's kind of tough because you've got to make a living for them. In the back of your mind, you realize you have to help at home and support at home, but on the other hand you've got a job to do here."


After an outstanding preseason, Daunte Culpepper is ready to get his roll on.

"The enthusiasm and the emotions are very high," Culpepper said of the regular-season opener Sunday against Tampa Bay.

He should be excited to see the start of a season and the month of September. Culpepper ranks fourth in touchdown passes (24) and passing yards (3,951) over the last four Septembers.

After a strong preseason, there is no reason to think he can't continue his productivity in September. Culpepper completed 36 of 44 passes for 520 yards with a 114.0 passer rating in limited action in four preseason games, but he doesn't want the team – or himself – to peak too early.

"I feel pretty good, but I know I'm not there yet. I know it's going to be a long season. … As far as me getting comfortable, I feel very comfortable. Hopefully we can just continue the continuity between myself and this offense," he said.

That will be a challenge against a tough Tampa Bay defense that ranked fifth overall but second against the pass last season.

"They have two really good corners that stand out, a good defensive front and very, very solid linebackers led by Derrick Brooks," Culpepper said. "They've had a lot of success. They know what to do and they know how to win. It's going to be tough for us offensively. We just have to be sharp mentally, keep the mistakes down and make the plays when they're there."

Culpepper will be facing former Vikings defensive lineman Chris Hovan, who enjoyed trying to trash talk quarterbacks on occasion, but when asked about it Monday, Culpepper said matter-of-factly: "Nobody can play mind games with me."

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