For the last two years, when the Vikings have lined up on offense, Ryan Cook has been the team's right tackle. He became the starting right tackle with three games remaining in the 2006 season and has started the last 29 games at that spot.
Wednesday, Cook began his first practice as a backup. Informed by head coach Brad Childress Tuesday, Cook was told he would be replaced by Artis Hicks. Cook has struggled badly the last couple of games and said it didn't come as a shock when he was told that he was being demoted in favor of Hicks. When asked if he was surprised by the announcement, Cook was honest about his self-assessment.
"Not really," Cook said. "I had kind of known from my own personal opinion of how I played (in the Green Bay and Tampa Bay) games. I made technical mistakes that I shouldn't be making."
With the Vikings struggling to remain at the top of the NFC North, Childress opted to turn to Hicks, who played admirably in the four games at left tackle, replacing suspended Bryant McKinnie. Hicks said the move to left tackle was considerably easier for him than his new assignment, because he has played left tackle in regular-season games with both the Vikings and Eagles. By his own assessment, he has only played "two or three snaps at right tackle in real games," but doesn't believe the adjustment will be too big of a challenge.
"I feel a little better on the left, but that isn't to say I'm not comfortable on the right," Hicks said. "It's just naturally, I feel better on the left. With plays, it's just a matter of flipping it in your head and going with it. Some plays are their own entity. You can't just reverse them or flip them (left to right). You have to know that specific play for that specific position. It's a matter of getting into the playbook and knowing what I have to do."
Hicks is no stranger to the "what have you done for me lately?" lifestyle in the NFL. Acquired from Philadelphia in a draft weekend trade in 2006, Hicks was immediately anointed the starting right guard by Childress. He played there during the 2006 season and the first four games of 2007. During the Vikings bye week, he was replaced by Anthony Herrera, who has started at guard ever since. He had to swallow his pride and make the adjustment Cook is experiencing, but, as Hicks viewed it, that's part of the job.
"When you come in this league, you have to have an understanding that there are going to be ups and downs," Hicks said. "You're going to have your good times. You're going to have your bad times. You have to stay even-keeled. You could go from not starting to starting in a heartbeat and you have to have that mindset. On the flip side, you can go from starting to being on the bench. That's just how this league is. It's all about performance."
Hicks has spent the last year-and-a-half becoming a jack of all trades. As the swing man on the offensive line, he has been taking snaps in practice at all the line positions expect center. He said center really isn't an option because, "I wouldn't be too fond of a man putting his hand under my butt."
Although he has spent much of his pro career playing guard, Hicks said he's always felt like he was a tackle. It was the only position he knew growing up and moved to guard primarily for professional self-preservation.
"Naturally, I'm a tackle," Hicks said. "Going back to middle school, high school, college and my first few years in the NFL, I was always a tackle. I'm a tackle by nature, but a guard by trade."
His job will be quite different from early in the year when he was pushed into duty replacing McKinnie on the left side. Typically, a right defensive end is a team's best pass rusher. He ordinarily lines up at the quarterback's blind side and his primary value is rushing the passer. A left defensive end is often viewed as a primary run-stopper, whose main job is to hold his ground and force running backs to the outside and give up nothing to his inside shoulder. Hicks knows that his responsibilities will change considerably from his first stint at tackle this year.
"You've got to hunker down a little bit more," Hicks said of playing the right side. "A defensive left end is a typical run-stopper – a big heavy guy who bull rushes on pass plays. He's going to be a big anchor that hard to root out of there on runs. I'm going to have to anchor down on this guy to try to wrest him up out of there."
When asked what he envisions his role to be with the Vikings, Cook said that he is going to have to be flexible. A four-year starter at center in college, Cook was new to the right tackle position, but, despite this setback, he still sees right tackle as his most natural NFL line position.
"I still see myself as a tackle," Cook said. "But being the swing man now, it creates more opportunities at more positions. I've been privy to those positions and what I have to do. Whenever I'm called upon, I'll be ready."
Hicks said he tried to be supportive with Cook and remind him that the NFL can be a roller coaster of emotions. One day, you're on top of the world. The next day, you may be down and out. Finding and maintaining a balance is the key, and Hicks said he learned from veteran teammates to find that balance and has tried to impart that same knowledge to Cook.
"I talked to him before (Tuesday's demotion)," Hicks said. "It's just how this league is. It's up and down. If you let it get you too low, it will be a short career for you. If you let it get you too high, it can also be a short career for you, because you get to think you're above and beyond everything. The guys who are great in the game and play for a long time, they're always even-keeled and right in the middle. They never get too high and never get too low."
For Cook, the demotion is a significant step backward. But, like Hicks did last season, he will accept his new role and wait for redemption when the chance presents itself.
"You just go back to the drawing board," Cook said of his transition to being a backup. "You start over and start building one step at a time. I'm going to get another opportunity. When that day comes, I'll be ready."
Promoted and demoted, Hicks and Cook react
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