Herrera remembers the A.D. breakout

Anthony Herrera well remembers the day that Adrian Peterson initially broke the Vikings rushing record … because it was also his first day back in the starting lineup. "It changed my career," he said. See what else Herrera had to say about that day and the current state of the Vikings running game.

For most of the Vikings players and coaches, traveling to Chicago for a game is usually a cause for mild dread. Depending on the time of year, when the wind comes, whipping off Lake Michigan, the conditions can be downright brutal. For players like Bernard Berrian and Bobby Wade, as former Bears, they will endure a steady torrent of verbal abuse from the same fans that used to cheer them on. The atmosphere at Soldier Field often reduces games to old-school slobber-knockers that leave both division rivals beaten and battered by game's end.

But for one Viking, heading to Chicago is a far happier experience. Right guard Anthony Herrera saw his career jump-started thanks to a trip to Soldier Field last year and he has nothing but good things to say about the Windy City.

"I loved going there last year," Herrera said. "It changed my career."

Last year, the Vikings had their bye week in Week 5. During that time off, the coaching staff made the decision to insert Herrera into the starting lineup. At the time, the Vikings were 1-3 and struggling despite having a rookie find in Adrian Peterson. The decision was made during the bye that Peterson was going to shoulder more of the offensive load and Herrera was going to be one of the guys plowing the road in front of him. On Oct. 14, 2007, Herrera got the start. Sunday will mark his 18th consecutive start – a streak that began because the coaching staff wanted to shake things up a little on the offensive line.

"I've always believed that the NFL is a game of opportunity," Herrera said. "I waited for my chance and tried to keep myself prepared for the day that the coaches would say that it was my turn. When the opportunity came, I was ready and did my best."

His best was being part of an offensive line that opened gaping holes for A.D., who set a franchise record by running for 224 yards on 20 carries and scoring three touchdowns – two of those coming on runs of 67 and 73 yards. Peterson's performance broke the old record of Chuck Foreman that had stood for just a couple weeks short of 29 years. The mark Peterson set in Chicago wouldn't last a month.

Three weeks later, Peterson would not only shatter his own team record, but would set a NFL record with 296 rushing yards against San Diego. He solidified himself in the league record books and, at the same time, Herrera cemented his place in the starting lineup.

"Those were a couple of great games," Herrera said. "But, you don't always get a lot of big runs like that during games. Most running plays only pick up a few yards. You hope that they can all be long touchdowns, but it doesn't work that way. Runners like (Peterson) can make something out of nothing – so can (Taylor) – but we had things going really well at that time of giving them lanes to run in."

Herrera's ascent to the starting lineup didn't come easy. An undrafted free agent in 2004, he spent the first eight games of his rookie year on the practice squad. He was moved up to the 53-man roster at midseason, but was inactive for seven of the eight regular-season games in which was eligible and both playoff games. The one game in which he did suit up – against Detroit Nov. 21 – he never saw the field. In 2005, he started the final six games of the season at left guard in place of Chris Liwienski and held up well. He was re-signed, but his future was far from bright.

In 2006, he was on the 53-man roster, but was inactive for 13 games and only saw special teams duty in the two games in which he played. It seemed as though he was destined to be a backup role player. His left guard spot was taken by All-Pro Steve Hutchinson and Artis Hicks seemed locked down at right guard. Still, Herrera felt his day was coming.

"You never know when your chance is coming," Herrera said. "You can have a backup quarterback for years who never plays, but when the starter gets hurt, he has to be ready to do whatever he can to help the team. The team had re-signed me (prior to 2007), so I knew they had confidence in me. I just had to make the most of my opportunities when they came."

Twenty games after his initial start at right guard, the Vikings are heading back to Chicago with a bye week looming. Much like last season, Peterson is piling up rushing yardage, but they aren't coming easy. Despite a game in which he had just 32 yards against the Saints in 21 carries, Peterson is still third in the league in rushing. But he and his linemen have bigger plans – by Peterson's admission, rushing for 2,000 yards. To reach that lofty goal, things will have to improve and Herrera said that is his focus.

"We've struggled at times this year," Herrera admitted. "You can say it's (an opponent) putting eight in the box or nine in the box. That is part of it. But it's just as much about us. We haven't had a game yet this year that we haven't had mistakes. Each guy on the line has to focus on his responsibility on each play. If all of us do that at the same time, that's when the big runs come."

With the bye week on the horizon, despite a poor start to the season, the Vikings can head into their week of rest and relaxation with at worst a share for the lead of first place in the NFC and, if the Colts do them a solid, the outright lead in the NFC North. They have a chance to control their own destiny and keep the Bears and Packers in their rear-view mirror. Much like a year ago, the Vikings head to Soldier Field with unanswered questions in their running game. They came out of the game with confidence and the NFL world buzzing about Peterson. Nothing would erase the memory of the 0-2 start (and subsequently 1-3) more than replicating that type of run dominance this time around.

"That would be great," Herrera said with a smile. "I'm sure Chicago will have something to say about that, but we're ready for one of those games. We haven't had one of those games yet, but we're hard and one is going to come soon."

It would seem only fitting that the resurgence of the Vikings run offense would come in the same place it all began a year ago.

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