When Anthony Herrera came to the Vikings as an undrafted free agent in 2004, there were no guarantees that he would be around the Vikings after the preseason that year. Three-and-a-half years later, Herrera is a starter and is being recognized for his contribution to an offense that is suddenly the talk of the league.
In the first four games of this season, Herrera found himself behind Artis Hicks on the depth chart. Coach Brad Childress had touted the competition between the two of them in their battle for the starting right guard position, saying the competition would bring out the best in both players. For the first four games of the season, Hicks had the starting job. But, after the Vikings came out of their bye week, Hicks was inserted as the right guard and hasn't let the job go.
In the four games with Hicks starting at right guard, Adrian Peterson carried the ball 76 times for 383 yards and one touchdown. In the four games Herrera has been the starting the starting right guard, Peterson has carried the ball 82 times for 654 yards and seven touchdowns – many of his long scoring runs coming to the right side.
While offensive linemen quietly share the accolades that get lauded upon star running backs, Herrera doesn't take the fact that Peterson is on pace to rush for 2,000 yards as a rookie and has the all-time NFL record for rushing yards in a single game as being the be-all and end-all of the ascent of the Vikings offense.
"It's just a stat," Herrera said of A.D.'s 296-yard performance against San Diego. "The bigger part of that was that we won the game. If he had set the record and we lost the game, nobody on the team would have been happy or celebrating. It was a great accomplishment, but winning the game was the big thing."
Herrera has settled into his new role as a starter. His four starts this season are just two shy of the six career starts in his first three seasons. While he is adjusting to his new role, he refuses to let himself relax and feel comfortable with his position in the starting lineup. He knows that critical mistakes can have a starter sent to the bench, and Childress has shown a propensity for doing just that. In 2006, the right tackle position was a revolving door that saw Marcus Johnson, Mike Rosenthal and Ryan Cook all take turns as the team's starter. He doesn't want to the see the same carousel happen at right guard.
"You can never feel comfortable to be honest," Herrera said. "Every time you feel comfortable is when somebody is going to pass you by. Somebody's always out there trying to take your spot. I go out every day and do what the coaches ask me to do. I'm just trying to get better at my trade."
The Vikings are using this part of the season to get a handle on just how good Herrera can be. After this season, he will be an unrestricted free agent and teams are always looking for depth and new starters at the O-line position. But, he knows the team made a commitment to him this year when his option came up and they re-signed him. But, he's not thinking about where he will be next year. He's more concerned with where the Vikings can go this year.
"I see the rest of this season as eight more games for me to ply my trade and show the team what I can do," Herrera said. "This was my option year and the Vikings kept me here. I figured in my mind that they kept me for a reason. Whether it was to be a backup or a starter, they saw something in me that they liked."
So as Peterson continues to wow fans and opponents alike, he'll be looking for running lanes opened by Herrera and his teammates. Whether Herrera's future is with the Vikings isn't in his hands. The team has yet to approach him about a contract extension, but whether that comes or not, Herrera isn't going to waste any time worrying about it. He's got a job to do and people to impress – both those inside Winter Park and those throughout the league.
"I'm not looking for a contract right now," Herrera said. "I'm just playing football, which is what I love to do. I'm just happy I've been given the opportunity and I'm working hard to improve every game."
If that improvement continues, don't be stunned to see the Vikings add him to the growing list of players they're locking down for what they hope will be a run back to Super Bowl contention for the Vikings.
Herrera Hardly Satisfied
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