Birk Without the Hurt in Full Pads

Vikings center Matt Birk returned to a full-pads workout Tuesday for the first time in nearly two years and talked about his health and the prospects for the offensive line this season. Plus, get numerous notes from Tuesday's two-a-day action.

Matt Birk doesn't necessarily desire to be the center of attention, but he is looking forward to getting back into a role as a starting center in the NFL. That comeback took another step forward Tuesday when Birk put on the pads for a full NFL training camp workout, something he missed last year.

In fact, Birk missed the entire 2005 season when he didn't fully recover from multiple sports hernia and hip operations and finally decided to go under the knife one more time in an attempt to fully heal for the 2006 season.

Which brought him to his big day Tuesday.

"Physically, I felt great. I really wasn't even thinking about my body or anything. I was just trying to get back into the swing of things. I've got a lot of rust to work off," Birk said after the Tuesday morning workout.

"There was a lot of anxiety. It's been about 18 months since live contact. I've been looking forward to this day to see what would happen and so far everything is good. I had anxiety because you just never know. I was just anxious to see if it would hold up or not. Either way, I just wanted to know."

After making the Pro Bowl four times in five years, Birk missed all of last season and four games the previous year while coping with the lingering injuries to his mid-section. Now, he says he feels the best he has in a couple years, which perhaps not so coincidentally is about the timeframe when the Vikings last had a reliable – or at least stable – offensive line.

Fast forward to the Brad Childress era, when the Vikings are committed to building up front and willing to spend $49 million over seven years on a left guard and make a draft-day trade for a right guard. Of course, that left guard isn't just any guard, it's Steve Hutchinson, widely considered the best left guard in the NFL today.

"He's fantastic," Birk said of Hutchinson. "Even before he signed, if you would have asked me who the best guard in football is, I would have said him. He's a blue-collar guy. He comes to work to work. He doesn't have any kind of attitude or ego. He wants to make the line better and make sure we're all on the same page."

Hutchinson is the key figure in a revamped offense line that is expected to feature, from left to right, Bryant McKinnie, Hutchinson, Birk, Artis Hicks and Marcus Johnson.

"Probably in five or six years, individually this is probably the most talent we've had across the board, but offensive line play is measured how you play as a unit," Birk said. "Talent levels as individuals doesn't guarantee anything.

"It all depends on how the five of us come together. You can have five talented guys, but that doesn't mean you're going to be a good offensive line. We feel like we have some players and can be pretty good. But because there are so many new parts, it's a long road ahead of us."

For now, Birk is back conducting the offensive line's journey on that long road. He is considered a savvy, well-rounded veteran that can win battles of strength. But his greatest asset might be his ability to diagnose a defense and make the right call for the offensive line.

However, with a new offensive system to learn, getting Birk back on his mental game will also take time.

"It's coming. Training camp is great because every day you get to immerse yourself in football for 14 hours a day, and that's the best way to learn something," Birk said. "It's not coming as naturally as it needs to, but technically this is only Day Two."

And Birk knows he has a long way to go to prove to people that he is back and able to survive the rigors of a full season, yet he remains optimistic.

"Physically, if I feel like I did (Tuesday), it's not going to be an issue," he said.

NOTES

  • Former Vikings coach Jerry Burns has a grandson that is a ball boy in camp this year.

  • Nine-year veteran Jason Whittle, acquired as a free agent from the New York Giants, is still the second-team center.

  • Rookie offensive lineman Ryan Cook started getting a few reps at right tackle. Cook was a second-round draft pick (51st overall) this year and was expected to work almost exclusively at center. He is still receiving the bulk of his work at center, but between the morning and afternoon practices Tuesday, he got about 20 snaps at right tackle.

  • The second-team offensive line consists of Adam Goldberg (left tackle), Anthony Herrera (left guard), Whittle, Chris Liwienski (right guard) and Mike Rosenthal (right tackle).

  • While Chester Taylor is considered the featured back, Mewelde Moore is still getting a number of snaps with the first-team offense. Ciatrick Fason has also received limited reps with the first-team offense.

  • The Vikings are using multiple wide receiver groupings, but right now it appears the top four wide receivers are Koren Robinson, Troy Williamson, Travis Taylor and Billy McMullen.

  • J.T. O'Sullivan connected with Marcus Robinson for a long touchdown pass in the morning session.

  • Tarvaris Jackson hit rookie receiver Jason Carter in stride for another long touchdown with Ronyell Whitaker defending. Jackson followed on the very next play by drilling a hard throw to Carter on a quick slant route for two very different completions on successive plays.

  • After missing the first two field goals wide right on a slippery field, Ryan Longwell rebounded to hit four consecutive field goals from varying distances.

  • Former Vikings running back Chuck Foreman was in attendance at the Tuesday afternoon practice session.

  • New York Giants safety Will Demps, whom the Vikings had an interest in as a free agent this offseason, gave Pro Bowl tight end Jeremy Shockey a concussion Monday with a big hit.

  • A source out of Philadelphia says that the Eagles continue to be impressed with the minicamp wide receiver Hank Baskett is having. The Vikings signed Baskett as an undrafted rookie this spring, but shortly after his first minicamp in Minnesota, Baskett was traded to Philadelphia for McMullen.


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