Confidence continues with Sullivan

The Vikings may be taking a risk in handing the starting center job over to John Sullivan, but it's a move in which they seem quite comfortable. What do coaches, players and Sullivan himself have to say?

It's a tired headline that seems to be printed often with a story focusing on the center: "Center of Attention."

If there is one bright spot to the nonstop Brett Favre coverage, it might be the heat (and attention) it has been taken off the guy who is replacing Pro Bowl center Matt Birk. Second-year pro John Sullivan has been able to go about his business with relative normalcy while the pursuit of Favre remains the center of attention surrounding the 2009 Vikings.

Sullivan would just be the guy snapping the ball to Favre. And, importantly, making the line calls that he hopes would best protect whichever quarterback – whether it's Favre or Sage Rosenfels or Tarvaris Jackson – is throwing it. So far, Sullivan has been quietly confident in his ability to handle the job.

"I'm feeling good right now. I learned a lot last year. The second year is always a lot easier because it's not new," he said. "It's just kind of fresh. Trying to get back up to speed on it. Feeling good so far. Minicamp went real well from a mental standpoint. I'll just keep trying to build off that for the rest of the offseason."

His work ethic hasn't escaped those he has been going against in practice this offseason.

"He's been here the whole offseason, him and Tarvaris and the other quarterbacks. They've been working together, getting the center-quarterback exchange and been meeting the whole offseason," said Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kevin Williams. "He's been on his Ps and Qs as far as the plays. I'm confident he'll hold his own. He was here last year with us so he knows what to expect."

"I think Sully's doing a great job," Rosenfels said. "He was here all offseason. He's done a great job, really taken the bull by the horns at center. He and I are constantly talking. He's one of those guys who loves to talk the game. I think he learned a lot from Matt Birk. I think he's going to do a great job this year."

Childress said Sullivan only took a week or two off following the 2008 season and was back working out on the treadmill and in the weight room.

But the mental part of the game is where Sullivan has been working just as hard. Childress said Sullivan's dedication goes beyond the call of duty, attending rookie meetings he doesn't have to.

Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell seems to have few reservations when it comes to Sullivan's ability to step into the starting role.

"He was out here last year when Birk is at home and he jumped in here last year and he took charge. He is a confident guy. He is a smart guy. So we are getting good calls out of him and good communications," said Bevell, who added that he thinks the job is "pretty easy mentally for (Sullivan)."

The challenge could be a bit more difficult physically. Birk and Sullivan were listed similarly in size last year – Birk at 6-foot-4 and 309 pounds and Sullivan the same height and 301 pounds – but Birk clearly had a thicker body with 11 years of NFL experience behind him.

Sullivan said he's a little heavier this year, saying he's in the "low 300s," but he's feeling stronger overall.

"I'm the strongest I've ever been. I feel like I'm moving quick out there, so I'm feeling good," he said.

He also had the bonus of working against defensive tackles Kevin and Pat Williams all during the 2008 when he was the center on the scout team and going against the Vikings' first-team defense, so Sullivan has an appreciation for the talent that a Pro Bowl defensive tackle brings to the game.

"That's another part of the learning experience. When you're not playing, you get the benefit of playing against that first-team defense all the time," Sullivan said. "I'm used to playing against those guys and obviously they're incredible players, Pro Bowl players every year. So I feel fortunate to get better playing against them every day in practice."

Kevin Williams said training camp will be the first true test for Sullivan.

"It's early. Sullivan is a good player and all, but we don't have pads on yet. All the line looks great," Williams said. "The truth will be told once training camp starts and we get pads on and get to go full go. Sullivan, he did a good job last year in training camp and I'm confident he's going to do a good job this year."

Sullivan's goals for this year are simple – know the basics.

"I just want to prepare myself as best I possibly can. Be in the best physical shape. Understand the playbook," he said. "For the next couple rounds of OTAs, just work on our timing more, get on the same page with everybody so that when the season rolls around we're all comfortable."

Certainly, the coaching staff appears comfortable with his progress, and his effort.

"He is on a mission," Childress said.


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