Fowler Biding His Time

Backup center Melvin Fowler might not be a backup much longer, but he's not making any waves. The Vikings have been struggling with the interior of their offensive line and using a rotation to try and calm the miscues at right guard, and there could be a rotation at center soon.

Vikings head coach Mike Tice wasn't using cryptic messages after the Vikings beat the Saints. For the third straight game, the Vikings' interior offensive line struggled and Tice suggested changes would be made during the bye week.

The obvious break in the levee is at right guard, where against the Saints, rookie Marcus Johnson, Adam Goldberg and rookie Anthony Herrera all shuttled in and out during the game. But center might become somewhat of a platoon situation as well.

For three games, Cory Withrow has been playing virtually all the snaps at center. That might change this week. While Withrow reportedly played his best game of the season against the Saints, it appears Melvin Fowler might split time at center against Atlanta.

Fowler has been seeing increased playing time with the first offense during practice, which is usually an indication more playing time is on the way.

"I can't say it's been half the snaps (in practice)," Fowler said. "Sometimes it's half, other times it's not that much."

Not long after they learned Pro Bowl center Matt Birk would be out for the season, the Vikings traded tackle Nat Dorsey to the Cleveland Browns for Fowler. The Browns drafted Fowler in the third round of the 2002 draft. He started 14 of the 30 games he played in Cleveland, including the final three games of the season last year. In 2003, Fowler started three games at guard and seven at center.

"He plays with high energy, he's quick and he's smart," Tice said after the trade. "The first thing we want to do is see how quickly he can pick up the system, and we'll take it day by day."

Fowler said Wednesday his transition from the Browns to the Vikings has been relatively smooth.

"It hasn't been bad," Fowler said. "There have been a lot of good guys helping me along the way and helping me learn every day. I'm just looking forward to get the opportunity to play."

But he hasn't been told a timetable.

"I have no idea. Whatever they tell me to do, I'll do," he said. "When that time comes you'll know as soon as I know. I feel like I'm ready to play. I'm hoping to provide help on the line and learn the offense, get better, and be ready whenever they need me, I'll be ready."

Withrow, whom Tice has repeatedly called "the best backup center in the NFL," is expected to start Sunday in Atlanta. But for the first time this season he could share significant time with Fowler.

That means there could be major shuffling of personnel at center and right guard during the game.

"It's frustrating at times, but they need to do what they think is best for the team and we'll see what happens," Withrow said.

On Wednesday Tice repeatedly said that Johnson is still the main right guard, even though he was benched during the game against Tampa Bay and twice against New Orleans. Despite Tice's vote of approval for Johnson, though, Goldberg and Herrera are expected to play some at right guard.

"We have three young players playing at right guard that played right guard (last week) and all three players bring something to the table and all three players have areas where they need to get better at," Tice said. "Fortunately for us, as coaches, all three young men are smart, all three are tough and all three young men are diligent in the approach to their jobs."

Withrow said the Vikings would make due with the offensive line shuffle.

"I think the guys he has rotated in with, it's starting to work and with us getting the reps in practice our timing's getting a little better," Withrow said. "We're just going to try to get better at our timing whoever it's going to be."

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