Positional Analysis: Guard

The Vikings have significantly upgraded the guard position since the arrival of Brad Childress as head coach, making headline news with a contract for Steve Hutchinson and re-signing Anthony Herrera long-term last year.

Signing free agents is often a risky proposition. Big contracts don't always translate into big results. But the Vikings have had absolutely no qualms about inking Steve Hutchinson to his infamous "poison pill" contract in 2006, which transformed the guard position from one of weakness to one of strength.

Hutchinson has built the kind of resume that already has some pundits claiming that he will likely be a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame when his career comes to an end. Anyone who has seen Hutch dominate on a play-by-play basis would agree that he is one of the pre-eminent guards in the NFL today and is at the top of his game as the team's starting left guard.

The other side of the line hasn't been nearly as rock solid, but signs pointed to a sharp upturn last season. Artis Hicks was also acquired in 2006 as part of a draft-weekend trade with the Eagles and he was immediately handed the starting job at right guard. After a fairly solid 2006 campaign, Hicks appeared to take a step backward in 2007 and was replaced by Anthony Herrera following the Vikings' bye week in Week 5 of last season. In his first game as a starter, Herrera was part of the O-line that blocked its way to a 200-yard game by Adrian Peterson. A few weeks later, he would also be part of A.D.'s NFL-record single-game rushing record of 296 yards against San Diego.

While neither Herrera nor Hicks are viewed as can't-miss types at guard, head coach Brad Childress has extolled the virtues of having competition between the two and that it has brought out the best in both players. The Vikings seemed to back up those words with action – or, more accurately, inaction – by not aggressively going after any guards in free agency or the draft. Instead, they signed Herrera to a solid, long-term contract that should keep him and Hutchinson in the starting lineup for years to come.

Depth at the position might end up being added in the form of rookie John Sullivan, a four-year starter at center at Notre Dame. If the Vikings can work out a long-term extension with Matt Birk, Sullivan has been rumored to be a top candidate to slide over to the right guard spot. Even if things don't work out with Birk on a long-term deal, Sullivan could see short-term assignment as a fill-in guard this season.

When grading out the position, one has to take into account that Hutchinson is the best left guard in the league, which helps make up for deficiencies – real or perceived – on the right side. Between Herrera and Hicks, the Vikings have a serviceable right side of the line and, combined with Hutchinson's off-the-charts skills on the left side, the guard position is one that looks very solid heading into 2008.

As the Vikings continue to try to establish the league's top rushing attack, the guard position would appear to be locked and loaded. Of the three line positions – tackle, guard and center – it would appear that guard is the position that is most established for both the short- and long-term future.

WEDNESDAY NOTES

  • Bids on the property owned by the parent company of the Star Tribune newspaper of Minneapolis closed on Tuesday and, while no official decision has been announced, it is expected that Zygi Wilf will remain the top bidder. Wilf had a tentative $45 million agreement to buy the Star Tribune land that would be used for the Vikings' new downtown stadium, but Wilf's organization pulled the $45 million land offer off the table last summer.

  • The Bills released TE Kevin Everett Tuesday, which some viewed as a callous move considering that Everett is in a comeback attempt from a near fatal neck injury that left him partially paralyzed. However, the truth is a far different situation. Everett was going to be entering the final year of his rookie contract signed in 2005. Buffalo will honor the final year of his contract and his release was simply to allow Everett to begin the process of getting long-term disability benefits from the league.

  • Add the Rams as possible preseason training camp partners with the Vikings. The Rams will be locating their training camp facilities into the Cheese League. St. Louis is expected to move its training camp site to Concordia University in Mequon, Wisc. – located about 15 miles north of Milwaukee.

  • The problems with the Bears continue, as middle linebacker Brian Ulracher, who signed a nine-year contract just three seasons ago, is threatening a hold out if the team doesn't re-do his contract. Since signing his deal, the NFL landscape has changed considerably, but the Bears believe that if Urlacher was willing to sign such a long-term deal, he should honor the contract. Urlacher is threatening to skip the team's mandatory workouts at the end of the month.


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