Withrow Working Through Tough Stretch

The 2005 season hasn't gone as center Cory Withrow wished, but ultimately he looks to have another chance to make things right with his own performance Sunday night. Withrow reflects on a difficult year for the offensive line.

Cory Withrow hasn't forgotten the fallout from the Vikings' miserable start to the season.

After the loaded-with-expectations Vikings stumbled out of the gates with a 1-3 start to what was supposed to be a promising season, Withrow was relegated to the bench.

Withrow, who head coach Mike Tice last year referred to as the "best backup center in the NFL," was filling in for Pro Bowler Matt Birk, who was out for the year. But after four games, Melvin Fowler, acquired in a traded with Cleveland a few weeks before the season began, was promoted to Withrow's spot.

Heading into the bye week, the Tice-titled NFL's best backup center was third string.

"It's very demoralizing. I felt bad that I couldn't hold up my end of the bargain and I was embarrassed that I let down the guys in the locker room," Withrow said. "But one thing I knew was my kids were still going to hug me when I came home, and my wife will always love me. I knew I was here for a reason and whatever that is, I'm going to try to do it to the best of my ability."

Because of an ankle sprain to Fowler, Withrow could return to the starting lineup Sunday at Baltimore for the first time since Oct. 2, when the Vikings were blown out by Atlanta 30-10. It will be his fifth start this season, tying his career-high of five starts that he made last season, when Birk was injured.

"I'm excited," Withrow said. "I'm excited to go out and have some fun and work with the guys, and try to help us get our stuff working and get the offense going a little bit. I'm excited for it."

Withrow alone cannot be counted on to resurrect the Vikings offense. He played most of the second half last week against Pittsburgh, when the Vikings produced less than 30 yards of offense in the second half.

"We've just got to do a better job up front," Tice said.

Many of the offense's woes this season have been correlated with the downfall of the offensive line. The shuffle at center is just the latest in what has been a revolving door on the line this season. Right tackle Marcus Johnson also suffered an ankle injury last week, meaning Mike Rosenthal will be re-inserted in Johnson's position, where Rosenthal was originally the starter.

Left tackle Bryant McKinnie is the only offensive lineman to start every game. Contrast that to two years ago when all five linemen started all 16 games. With the line playing musical chairs because of injuries and a lack of productivity it is no wonder the offense is ranked as one of the worst in the league.

"We take it personally," Withrow said. "It's one thing you definitely don't want to hear with all the problems always being on the offensive line. It hurts to know that we haven't held up our share of the bargain.

"But one thing we'll always do is continue to work at it. We'll never give up. One thing is, our struggles aren't from a lack of effort. For whatever reason, we just haven't jelled that great."

If there is a beacon of light — and it is difficult to find one — in the line's struggles it's that there can be little finger pointing in position meetings with line coach Steve Loney. No one on that line can say he has had a Pro Bowl season without flaws.

"There's no lack of conversation, we definitely have stuff to talk about," Withrow said. "We all know what each other is going through. And we can lean on each other when times are tough. We're a work in progress. The key is for us to keep on encouraging each other and focus on what things we're doing good and work hard on the things we're not doing good."

It has been a turbulent year with the Vikings for Withrow. After making five starts last season he was able to test the free agent market. But after not finding the right price, he returned to the Vikings after they elected to let him go.

"The year has had its ups and downs," Withrow said. "But I tell you one thing: I love the guys in the locker room. I think we have a great group of guys who want to compete and work hard and are great at what they do. There is genuine care and concern for each other. The season's had its ups and downs – getting benched, playing here and there … Emotionally, it's been a roller coaster. But I never have a bad day at work."

That reason, and so many others (playoff implications, to name one) is why Withrow is looking forward to the Vikings' Christmas Day night matchup with the Baltimore Ravens.

"We're playing on ESPN and we're the only game in town," Withrow said. "We're entertainers and we want to play well. It would be great if Green Bay comes out and goes crazy on the Bears. But whatever happens, happens. We're in this situation because this is the situation we put ourselves in."

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