Herrera A Running-Game Catalyst

When did the Vikings' running game work itself into national prominence? When Anthony Herrera became a starting guard and Adrian Peterson set a then-franchise record on Oct. 14 against the Chicago Bears. Herrera and the running game have been consistently good since.

Coming out of the Vikings' bye week, the team was 1-3 and had a brutal stretch of games coming up – meeting up with 2006 playoff teams Chicago, Dallas, Philadelphia and San Diego, as well as NFC North frontrunner Green Bay in a five-week stretch. Even most Vikings fans were relatively convinced that by mid-December they would be more interested in watching some of the top prospects in the college bowl games than watching the Vikings in the thick of a playoff chase.

In that Oct. 14 game, the Vikings made a lineup shift that most casual fans took little to no notice of – right guard Artis Hicks was replaced in the starting lineup by Anthony Herrera. At the time, some speculated that the Vikings were just giving Herrera a good "look-see" to determine if he could be a player that would remain with the team after the 2007 season. Hicks hadn't been as consistent as the coaching staff would have liked and Herrera was looking for his opportunity.

We all know what happened that day – Peterson set a then-franchise record 224 yards on 20 carries and scored three touchdowns. Herrera hasn't been out of the starting lineup since and, in that span, Peterson has set an NFL record for single-game rushing yards with 296 yards against San Diego. And backup Chester Taylor has posted a pair of 100-yard games as well.

Along the way, not only did Herrera's confidence grow, but so, too, did the confidence in the Vikings' brass in his ability. Two weeks ago, he was awarded a contract extension that will keep him with the Vikings and keep him off the free agent market.

While Herrera's life has changed considerably over the last couple of months, his resolve as a player has remained much the same. Does he notice a difference in himself today as opposed to the player who started his first game of the season against the Bears two months ago? Yes and no.

"I think I'm a little bit more aware now," Herrera said. "I'm getting better at being aware of different defenses, what you're going to see out of different looks and what to expect. I'm still working on my technique and getting better every game, but my awareness is getting better."

As fans and media alike try to find reasons why a team that could be 3-5 at the midway point of the season has now won four straight and five of the last six, one of the conclusions they have drawn is the insertion of Herrera into the starting lineup has made a difference. While O-linemen usually don't get noticed until they do something wrong and get penalized, Herrera said he can't point to his inclusion as a starter for the turnaround – although he smiled at the assertion.

"I don't look at it that way," Herrera said. "The coaching staff gave me an opportunity and I'm just trying to make the most of it. Every game stands on its own merit. What we did in Week Five doesn't matter now. We just have to keep doing what we've been doing the past few weeks and the rest will take care of itself."

While Herrera has flown under the radar nationally with casual NFL fans, he will be on display front and center Monday night when the Vikings have their rematch with the Bears. While he's hoping to have a repeat performance of the first start, when both Peterson and Taylor went off for big runs consistently against the Bears, he said the excitement of playing on Monday night in front of the country and his pro football peers can't be a distraction. He knows the hoopla and excitement heading into game time will be different than normal, but, once the game starts, it needs to remain business as usual.

"It's always a little different (atmosphere) because that's why they put football games on Monday night," Herrera said. "It's exciting and it's special because you know everyone is going to be watching. But when you get between the lines and the game starts, it doesn't really matter. You're in your own world. You don't think about the cameras and the TV people running around. You're just concerned with the guy you're lined up against and winning your battle."

With the Bears clinging by the slimmest of threads for a chance to remain remotely alive in the NFC wild card chase, Herrera isn't looking past them. They have been a thorn in the Vikings' side, but they have a special place in his memory. It was the first Bears game that gave Herrera his opportunity to be a starter and it might be the second game vs. the Bears that lets the football world know that there are a couple of other guys on the offensive line besides Bryant McKinnie, Matt Birk and Steve Hutchinson.

While Herrera and the Vikings can officially end any playoff hopes the Bears still cling to and the national spotlight will be shining, Herrera is going to do his best to keep it all in perspective and keep doing what has been successful for him to date this season.

"I'm just trying to look at it as just another game," Herrera said. "Chicago has been the top team in this division, but they've been replaced. Teams have ups and downs, so I don't look at it as us being the team that ends it for them, but them being the team we have to beat to get where we want to go. We know them well and know we have to take it one play at a time and try to win on every snap. Records mean nothing when it comes to games like this. It's just another game we have to take care of."

Viking Update Top Stories