Offensive lineman Mike Rosenthal takes nothing for granted. He's seen too much in his NFL career, from position switches and benchings to swapping teams in free agency and contract rewriting – and those are just his firsthand experiences.
Rosenthal is back in one of those stretches of his NFL career where change is happening again.
The former starting right tackle is now working with the second team at left tackle.
"Anytime you switch to the other side I think it's a big switch. But when I learned the (Vikings' new West Coast) offense, I learned everything – I learned the center, I learned the guards, I learned the tackles," Rosenthal said. "It makes it easier for me to learn it that way. That way I know what everybody is doing, I know the calls."
Rosenthal isn't being asked to play guard or center – at least for now – but he is being asked to at least get comfortable with playing on both sides as a tackle.
"As far as switching sides, it's just a matter of getting the numbers straight," he said. "You mix yourself up subconsciously. Flipping sides is a switch because of the footwork and stuff."
There is a mental challenge and a physical challenge to switching sides on the offensive line. Rosenthal knows all about that, as he played left guard and left tackle for the New York Giants from 1999 to 2002 before signing as a free agent with the Vikings in 2003 and becoming their starter at right tackle.
Rosenthal isn't the only lineman being asked to move around. Rookie Ryan Cook is considered a center first, but the Vikings have been trying him at right tackle as well. And guard Artis Hicks, who joined the Vikings via an offseason trade, played on the left side of the Philadelphia Eagles' offensive line before being asked to become a starter at right guard for the Vikings this year. Hicks was also asked to practice at right tackle for a while this week.
"You have a different power leg," Vikings head coach Brad Childress said of making the move from one side of the line to another. "It's a transition because there's muscle memory involved with how you kick on the left side as opposed to the right. What's interesting is we took Artis from the left side and threw him out at right tackle (Wednesday). It looked like he'd been playing there the whole training camp. Boom, boom, boom, boom. A different speed, because he's used to it.
"You're re-teaching not only the mind for all the plays that go right, but also you're re-teaching those legs. It's kind of like having a dominant right hand. If you've been on the left side always and all the sudden you're asked to do something the other way, it feels different. You've got a different power base. You're used to propping on one foot as opposed to kicking that foot."
Childress doesn't have to tell Rosenthal that. This move to left tackle isn't his first time switching side.
While becoming a more versatile lineman is an asset, Rosenthal said it doesn't really provide any more insurance for him making the final roster.
"No. There is never insurance in this game. You never know what tomorrow brings," he said. "It's good for me personally to play both sides because I enjoy it. I enjoy learning new things and it's been a while since I've been over there, so I'm embracing it."
Chances are, it's easier for him to digest switching sides of the line this year than it was to go from a starter to a backup last year. He started seven games as rookie, but he didn't become a full-time starter until his final season with the Giants.
His first season with the Vikings, he started all 16 games before a broken foot shelved him three games into the 2004 season. Last year, on an offensive line that was in shambles, he returned to start the first 10 games at right tackle before getting benched in favor of rookie Marcus Johnson, who lasted four games before an injury forced Rosenthal to start the final two games.
"(Getting benched) is a big shot, but I'm a professional. I prepare the same way. I still help Marcus to this day and I helped Goldy (Adam Goldberg) when I was hurt (in 2004)," Rosenthal said. "I think it's the job of the vets to help the younger guys."
But his experience last year may have actually helped him prepare for his latest challenge to become more versatile.
"Last year, when you become a backup, you have to learn everything because you only dress seven guys on Sunday so you need to be versatile," he said.
Despite learning more positions last year and studying his new offense this year from an overall lineman's perspective, Rosenthal said he is still making mistakes and learning the specifics of some of his protection assignments on the left side.
A fractured bone in the hand of Bryant McKinnie still isn't expected to be enough to put Rosenthal back in the starting lineup. McKinnie is expected to continue to start while mending the injury, and Rosenthal could remain his backup at left tackle and might eventually end up as a backup at right tackle as well, depending on the experimental success or failure of having Ryan Cook and Artis Hicks in those roles.
For Rosenthal, he sees no difference in the quality of defensive ends he goes up against on the left or right side.
"In this day and age, everybody is fast. You talk about nose tackles that are as fast as three-techniques. Right ends and left ends, they're interchangeable now," he said. "The speed of the game has gotten faster with people getting bigger and stronger."
And he has played next to so many different combinations at guard over the last few years that he doesn't expect any issues there either – although if he would be used at tackle, it likely wouldn't be the more familiar faces of Chris Liwienski, Adam Goldberg or Anthony Herrera that he would be playing next to, not with newcomers Artis Hicks and Steve Hutchinson in the fold.
No, Rosenthal takes just about everything in stride, even when the team approached him this offseason about restructuring his contract.
"You see it happen so much that if it doesn't happen to you, you're almost like, ‘When is it coming?' I wasn't surprised when they tried to do it and I understand both sides of the equation in a lot of the situations," he said.
And, of course, just because he restructured his deal, even that doesn't offer him any assurances of making the final roster either.
"The bottom line is you need to go out on the field and prove it. Each year, it's renewable. You need to go out and earn your job each year," he said. "I don't care if you're the first-team, second-team, third-team, it's a competition every day."
No Assurances for Rosenthal
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