Center Still a Sore Spot

The Vikings have gone nine regular-season games and four preseason games without the services of Matt Birk, but they haven't been able to consistently replace him.

Although the Vikings are more than halfway through the season, they continue to struggle in the quest to find a replacement for Pro Bowl center Matt Birk.

Cory Withrow began the regular season in that role after Birk underwent season-ending hip surgery, but he was replaced by Melvin Fowler after four games. Fowler, though, struggled in the first half of the Giants game, missing a couple of calls, and was pulled at halftime because of the mistakes and a strained oblique muscle.

It's unclear if Fowler will be healthy enough, or have the confidence of the coaching staff, to be back at center Monday night against Green Bay. Fowler, listed as probable, has the greater upside, but Withrow might prove to be the safer choice to run things right now.

Either way, the Vikings are getting a weekly reminder of just how valuable the cerebral Birk has been and just how much they had come to rely on him.

Right now, that is part of the problem. Coach Mike Tice and offensive coordinator and line coach Steve Loney have made it clear that the remaining members of the line must rely less on Withrow or Fowler and take it upon themselves to identify their blocking assignments.

At running back, Mewelde Moore is expected to return to his role as the Vikings' starter Monday after not getting on the field for an offensive play against the Giants because of a sprained right wrist. Moore had to wear a brace on the wrist, something that would have prohibited him from carrying the ball in that hand, but he was able to return punts.

Moore's injury gave Michael Bennett the majority of the rushing workload, but with the Giants stacking the line of scrimmage in order to stop the run, he gained only 16 yards on 19 carries.

The changes at running back go past the starting job. With Moe Williams missing the rest of the season because of a knee injury, rookie Ciatrick Fason stands to be the running back on third-and-1 and goal-line situations for the rest of the year.

At receiver, don't be surprised to see Koren Robinson's role increase. Robinson caught a 44-yard pass against the Giants, and with Nate Burleson obviously not playing at 100 percent, the Vikings might be inclined to turn to Robinson as a go-to guy. He has the big-play ability the Vikings sorely need with Randy Moss no longer around.


  • WR Nate Burleson, who still appears to be slowed by an early-season sprained knee, might be given some time off from practice this week when the Vikings return to the field on Thursday.

  • RB Moe Williams, who underwent an arthroscopic procedure on his right knee Tuesday, was placed on injured reserve. TE Richard Angulo was activated from the practice squad, and RB Butchie Wallace was signed to the unit.

  • DL Spencer Johnson is expected to be sidelined for the fifth time in the past six games Sunday because of an MCL injury in his right knee. That likely will mean rookie nose tackle C.J. Mosley will suit up for the fourth time.

  • CB Brian Williams, who has replaced the injured Fred Smoot, earned high marks for his performance against the Giants, which included an interception.

  • G Toniu Fonoti continues to rehab a hand injury and also is trying to get his weight down from the 404 pounds he reported at after being acquired from San Diego last month at the trade deadline. Fonoti could be cleared to play in the next couple of weeks.

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