The assumption seems logical enough: The Vikings lose Pro Bowl center Matt Birk in free agency and second-year pro John Sullivan is expected to replace him, so it makes sense to assume that arguably the best guard in the NFL would be called upon to help Sullivan during the transition.
That guard, Steve Hutchinson, seemed to downplay that assumption last month.
"He's a smart young guy," the six-time Pro Bowl left guard said of Sullivan. "Obviously the experience level isn't there for him, but he's sharp. Like I said, he's learned a lot from Matt and the coaches. He's picked up a lot and he's a guy that spent all last year taking notes even though he knew he wasn't going to be out there, so he should be pretty good calls-wise. But there's going to be a lot of things he's going to be learning as we go and this will be a pretty important OTA (organized team activity). Hopefully I don't have to help him out too long."
Hutchinson said that as the offseason condition program was getting underway. When the actual OTAs started last week, Hutchinson was among the veterans that didn't attend, as head coach Brad Childress didn't invite many of those returning to starting jobs, especially those who have been in the system multiple years.
Childress also seemed to downplay the theory that Hutchinson's experience would help Sullivan a great deal at center.
"Steve's an important part of that offensive line, but no more so an important part than any of those five guys because those guys more than anybody have to play together. But we'll continue to count on him for his veteran leadership and his veteran presence in the offseason and during the season," Childress said.
When asked if there was anything Hutchinson could do during games to assist Sullivan, Childress pointed to Sullivan's studious nature since he arrived on the scene as a sixth-round draft pick in 2008.
"I don't think so. I don't think Sully is going to struggle with any of that mentally. I think he's got capable guys on both sides of him, but really (we) call on that guy to be the expert in that area," Childress said.
Like Sullivan, Birk was also a sixth-round draft choice by the Vikings back in 1998. He didn't play much during his rookie season either, appearing in only seven games and starting none. In his second season, Birk played in 15 games, but he didn't become a starter until 2000, and immediately began earning Pro Bowl honors.
Hutchinson said he didn't know how long it would take Sullivan to get up to speed, but the lack of continuity might be the biggest challenge for the offensive line.
"That's always a different deal when you have a new guy coming and expecting to start on the offensive line. I've said it for years, so much of the offensive line is continuity and knowing the guy next to you and the guy two spots down from you like the back of your hand," Hutchinson said. "John's coming in and, from my understanding, he's been here the entire offseason watching film, learning from things that Birk had taught him and the coaches, and he's 100 percent jumped in with two feet right away and you've got to admire the fact that he's taking it very seriously."
Childress also vouched for Sullivan's work ethic throughout the offseason.
"The biggest thing he can do is be a student of the game and play well and that's immediate acceptance. The great thing about Sully is he was home in Connecticut for about two weeks and he was back here after the season," Childress said. "I saw him down on the treadmill two weeks after the season. I said, ‘What the hell are you doing back here?' He said, ‘I got bored, coach.' He's been (here during the) offseason getting his masters degree here and spending a lot of time in the classroom."
Time will tell how well those studies transfer to the field.
Can Hutchinson help Sullivan's transition?
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