Mozes Gets First-Team Opportunity

With Matt Birk not attending voluntary practices, Dan Mozes was the first-team center on Monday and Tuesday after a rookie season spent on injured reserve. See what the young lineman had to say about the experience and his rookie year on the sidelines.

Dan Mozes took the familiar squat of a center at the beginning of Monday's first organized team activity (OTA) with the Minnesota Vikings, but the surrounding teammates were anything but familiar. This wasn't West Virginia University and it wasn't even the third-team offensive line of the Vikings.

With Pro Bowl center Matt Birk not attending the voluntary OTAs, Mozes went from a rookie who never played even a preseason game in 2007 because of a training camp knee injury to the starting center – at least for now – for one of the NFL's most improved teams. So forgive him if he admits to having some nerves.

"Oh yeah. Your playing next to Steve Hutchinson and Anthony Herrera, it's amazing," Mozes said. "Trust me, the first play it was actually funny that I messed up a little bit on it and you have guys next to you helping you. That's real good to have."

Mozes didn't find out that he would be in that situation until he showed up for the start of about a month of intermittent practices on Monday.

"It's just a blessing to be out here in itself, coming off a knee surgery, being able to come out maybe a little bit early and be able to perform and do some things out there, just being able to be out there and do some things with the team, it was just fun to be able to get back in the swing of things," said the 6-foot-3, 293-pound second-year pro.

Mozes tore his anterior cruciate ligament during a combined practice with the Kansas City Chiefs in last year's training camp in Mankato and was placed on season-ending injured reserve before he had a chance to play in his first preseason game at the NFL level. He said Tuesday that there was no tightness in his knee, but he was still hesitant at first.

But, while he never got a chance to play a game in his rookie season, he spent plenty of time at the Vikings' practice facility watching film and sitting in offensive line meetings when he wasn't rehabilitating his knee.

"The way I looked at last year was like a redshirt year in college. You lift, you do all the workouts and then you go to all the meetings and learn," he said. "I learned a lot, but the best way to learn is by playing on the football field. At the same time, I learned a lot in the meeting rooms and being able to watch a guy like Matt Birk and performing at the Pro Bowl level that he's play at throughout his whole career. It's funny, you watch a guy like him and he makes it look so easy. It's not as easy as he makes it look, I promise you that."

Birk is often credited as being an intelligent player with his college background at Harvard, but Mozes' former offensive line coach in college believed he had the intelligence to make it in the NFL before last year's draft.

"Dan is one of the smartest guys I've ever known," Rick Trickett told the Pittsburgh Tribune. "He'll know more about what the defense is trying to do than their own defensive players. And he'll know exactly what technique he needs to use to be effective against whoever he's up against."

But that still wasn't enough to get the former Rimington Trophy winner and All-Big East offensive lineman drafted. He expected to be selected during the second day of the 2007 draft, but the Vikings ended up signing him as a priority free agent in the hours following the draft.

Now, after a rookie season on the sidelines and in the trainer's room, Mozes enters the second half of the "offseason" making all the line calls for a veteran team with high expectations.

"It's a man's business out there and you have to take responsibility for your actions," he said. "If you mess something up, it's your fault, and if you do what you're supposed to do then that's what you're supposed to do. So you have to take that responsibility yourself."

Mozes ended up with a few center-quarterback exchange issues, he said, but that is to be expected when snapping to a quarterback he has rarely worked with and trying to diagnose a "dummy" defense made up of teammates.

He said any problems he had were "probably because my mind was spinning so quick. You have to go out there and make so many calls, and then you have to remember the cadence. There might have been one or two bad snaps, but I'm pretty sure the quarterback might have adjusted for me to make me look better than what I did."

The results, overall, looked satisfactory from an amateur's sideline view, and anything is better than writhing on the grass in Mankato, grabbing an injured knee and knowing your first chance at the NFL could be torn to shreds quicker than a knee ligament.

"I just started busting out in tears," Mozes said of that moment last summer. "I didn't know how the NFL worked. I thought my career was over. I didn't know they'd keep me on IR (injured reserve) for insurance purposes. When I found that out, I felt better about it. At the same time, it hurt me – undrafted free agent and I had to go out there and prove everything next year. At the same time, I got the year to learn things, kept my head up and kind of rolled with my punches and kept on going."

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