When replacement center Melvin Fowler was packing up his belongings from his Winter Park locker a day after the dismissal of former head coach Mike Tice, he left the locker room acting like a man that wasn't planning to return.
Fowler was traded from the Cleveland Browns to the Minnesota Vikings at the start of the 2005 season. The Vikings needed another center when they learned that Pro Bowler Matt Birk wouldn't be available for the entire season because he had elected to have surgery to repair the labrum in his hip.
Perrenial Vikings backup Cory Withrow started the season at center but eventually gave way to Fowler, who established himself as a reliable, if unspectacular, answer. But the last year on his contract was being played out, and Fowler left the Vikings with a starting position in mind.
When Viking Update asked Fowler if Minnesota is a place he would want to come back to, Fowler said he wasn't really sure.
"I'm just going to make my decision based on what's best at the time, depending on the need or the want, the situation here," he said about his pending free agent status.
"It was a great experience, just to be part of something great that we did here as far as turning the season around and coming back to have a winning season coming back from 2-5."
Fowler was part of the continuous retooling on the offensive line in 2005. He needed time to learn the system and was eventually placed into the starting lineup, gaining favor over Withrow. While those two each started their share of games, the same was also true at left guard, right guard and right tackle. Only left tackle Bryant McKinnie started every game on the offensive line.
Still, Fowler downplayed the effect of playing musical chairs on the offensive line.
"I don't think it was that tough. We had a great bunch of guys. Everyone stepped in when they had to," he said.
Now the Vikings will be faced with a decision at center. They are expecting the return of Matt Birk after a season spent rehabilitating his hip. New head coach Brad Childress said he envisions Birk in the starting center slot at training camp and Birk's camp says he's ready to go. But with Withrow and Fowler both unrestricted free agents, the Vikings will have to decide if they want to sign one of them or go outside the organization for Birk's backup.
It's that last word—"backup"—that doesn't sit well with Fowler. He has started numerous games at center between his time in Cleveland his one season in Minnesota, and he isn't looking for a return to the bench. If Birk does indeed make a full recovery, that's exactly where Fowler would end up if he would elect to re-sign with the Vikings. That, however, doesn't seem likely.
"I want to go wherever they want me to start, and if that's here, then so be it. If it's somewhere else, then that's where I'll be," he said.
Expect to see him "somewhere else" in 2006.
Fowler Not Likely to be in Purple
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