Herrera In Hot Competition?

Guard Anthony Herrera entered training camp with an opportunity to reclaim a starting role, or was it just a temporary assignment until Bryant McKinnie returns to action and Artis Hicks is back in the competition at right guard? Herrera and center Matt Birk talked about the situation.

Anthony Herrera said he found that he would open training camp practicing as the starting right guard when he arrived. He's been a starting NFL guard before and returns there now only partly because of what he controls.

"I just look at it as an opportunity to do what the coaches ask me to do – earn a spot on the roster," said Herrera, who is longer on persistence than he is on words.

He might just end with a full-time starting job as Artis Hicks has spent the first eight practices of training camp filling in a left tackle for Bryant McKinnie, who is on the non-football injury list. McKinnie is expected to return to action today, but to this point McKinnie loss was Herrera's gain.

"It's still competition and you still have to do the best you can do. (Coaches are) looking for the best 53 so you just have to get in where you fit in," Herrera said in his typical low-key, economy-of-words fashion.

But his work ethic and persistence throughout his career gained him the respect of Pro Bowl center Matt Birk.

"Anthony has always been hard on himself," Birk said. "I think he's his own toughest critic. That can be good and bad. Tony has worked extremely hard. … All the combo blocks that I had with him, it felt good. I never felt like I had to correct him on anything. He's always been a physical player."

Just two seasons ago, Herrera broke into the starting lineup in only his second season in the NFL after originally signing with the Vikings as an undrafted free agent. At the time, he felt like coaches at the University of Tennessee didn't give him glowing reviews and jeopardized his status as a draft pick.

After starting 36 of 48 games as a Volunteer and helping them to four straight bowl games, he earned his way onto the Vikings' practice squad for the opening nine games of 2004, then went up to the 53-man roster for the remainder of his rookie season.

In 2005, his ascension up the ranks of the offensive line culminated with a starting role at left guard for the final six games of the season. He was finally getting his opportunity and was visibly stunned sitting in front of his locker at the Metrodome following the team's final game when he was informed that former head coach Mike Tice had been fired.

So Herrera has essentially had to go about proving himself again to a new coaching staff that helped approve the $49 million contract to bring in Pro Bowl left guard Steve Hutchinson and then traded for former Philadelphia Eagles offensive lineman Hicks.

That resulted in Herrera seeing action in only two games last year and being on the inactive list for 13 games.

So the opportunity to get back into the starting lineup, if even for the start of training camp practices when he knows McKinnie will return and his depth-chart battle with Hicks will resume, has to feel good. Yet Herrera takes everything in stride after seeing opportunity slip away from him before.

At this point, he's working to get better and build a better playing rapport with whoever is next to him at right tackle.

"You just know what the guy is thinking a little bit more with less communication (the longer you play next to him)," Herrera said of playing in tandem with either Ryan Cook or Marcus Johnson at right tackle. "Instead of speaking so much, you can focus more on your technique and stuff and know what that guy is thinking.

"I've played with both of them, so it's not really that big of a difference. Last year in camp, I was with both of them."

It also works the other way. Birk is trying to build playing chemistry with his right guard, whether that turns out to be Hicks or Herrera. But Birk is quicker to inject a joke into the situation.

"They are both pretty fat and ugly," he said with a grin when asked about the differences between the two potential starting right guards before turning a serious answer. "Anthony is a guy I have a lot of respect for. I've watched him through his whole career and watched how hard he's worked to get here and stay here. There will be times when I'm out there and they're rolling guys through and call a guy by name and it's the wrong guy. There is so much going on out there and you've got so much to think about and you have your own job to do that a lot of times you don't even notice who is out there."

As an offensive lineman, Herrera might be hoping he's the one starting but not getting noticed.

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