Center Sullivan getting all-around credit

With former Pro Bowl center Matt Birk now in Baltimore, one of the intriguing training camp storylines has been the development of John Sullivan. Few within the organization seemed concerned about Sullivan's ability to handle the position from a mental or even physical standpoint. See what several players and coaches had to say about the second-year player.

If it were another player stepping in to make the calls on the offensive line, there would likely be much more concern over John Sullivan's insertion into the starting lineup for veteran Matt Birk. However, after a full offseason of work, it seems the Vikings have few concerns with Sullivan, especially from a mental standpoint.

"You can tell he's a pretty smart dude. It's very natural," said quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. "You can tell he studies hard. He watches a lot of film and he's one of those guys that doesn't make the same mistake twice. You tell him something and he corrects it right away. He's a young guy. He's only in his second year – I don't want to sound like I'm too old by saying he's a young guy – he's far along in his years as far as making calls and stuff. Anybody can always get better, but I like where he's headed right now."

So far, so good. There haven't been balls bouncing off of the quarterbacks' fingers during the snap and there hasn't been confusion taking over on the offensive line. Sullivan is handling the transition just fine.

"I haven't really had any moment where I've been overwhelmed at all. I feel like I was very prepared coming in, a lot of hard work in the offseason, physically and mentally," Sullivan said.

Head coach Brad Childress has consistently credited Sullivan's worth ethic in the offseason, saying he hardly took any time off and has been working on his game from a physical and mental standpoint. All of Sullivan's note-taking in meetings and film study are paying off, at least in practices.

"Typically a young center (has trouble) with all the calls and directing the line, the protection slides. There is a lot of conversation that's going on and he's the guy that's directing that. I don't see any pause or hesitation in directing that and, again, he's a credible guy because he spent time at it," Childress said.

Sullivan also had an advantage by learning from Birk, who built up a decade of experience in the league and wasn't afraid to share the tricks of the trade with last year's sixth-round draft pick.

Even the defensive players Sullivan has been working against over the last year-plus say he's a quick study.

"He's doing a good job. He's a smart guy out there. He knows his checks and knows where he needs to be. And he's pretty quick for his size, so he presents his own problems in his own unique way," said Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kevin Williams, who said Sullivan is becoming more aggressive instead of worry about his size.

In fact, Sullivan's size – at 6-foot-4, 301 pounds – would seem to be the only concern for him at this point. But Williams said even that hasn't been much of an issue.

"It might be against some of the bigger guys, but he uses his quickness and he can be that little mosquito out there that's in your way. We play a couple of small centers in (Dominic) Raiola and (Olin) Kruetz in our division, so give him a little while and he'll know the tricks of the trade and he'll be good," Williams said.

But it's the more outspoken and larger Pat Williams, a Pro Bowl nose tackle, who faces Sullivan more often than Kevin. In typical Pat fashion, he wouldn't give Sullivan too much credit because the Notre Dame alumnus hasn't played an NFL snap on offense.

"I think he'll be alright. He's still learning. He's still a young guy, rookie to me so I ain't going to give him credit yet. He's still learning and working hard," Pat Williams said.

Perhaps as a show of his intellect, Sullivan refused to say which of the Vikings' defensive tackles is harder for him to handle.

"That's pick your poison right there. I go against Pat more often with him playing the shade. You can't really make a choice against those two," he said.

Pat practiced against Sullivan on a regular basis last year when the then-rookie was playing on the scout team, and Williams said Sullivan has become better at calling the protections for the offensive line and pointing out blitzes.

Backup defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy said that all Sullivan needs is experience and that he has held up well against the bigger defensive linemen.

"I feel like I'm holding my own. I'm getting a lot of great work in," Sullivan said. "I realize there are going to be guys that are bigger (than me) in this league. There's nobody better (than the Williamses), but there are guys that are even bigger. It's great to be able to practice against guys like that, Pro Bowl-caliber guys, day in and day out. It's really, really good preparation."

While Sullivan's first game action as a starter will begin on Friday, so far Bevell likes what he has seen.

"The big thing we were going to see was basically he wasn't going to get any physical contact (until training camp) so we didn't know how he was going to hold up against the bigger bodies in there," Bevell said. "We have great examples here with Pat and Kevin. I think he has done a nice job. He has been able to hold his own and be physical by holding the point of attack. He is doing a nice job in protections. Right now we are pleased with it, but we still have to wait until we get to the other competition. Indianapolis will be telling. Then we'll move forward."

MONDAY AFTERNOON PRACTICE NOTES

  • Former Vikings coach Jerry Burns attended Monday's practices.

  • A full contingent of Vikings ownership was also at the practices as they get together for meetings Monday and Tuesday. Childress attended a luncheon with the owners.

  • WRs Percy Harvin and Nick Moore both spent time returning punts in the Vikings' special teams practice Monday afternoon. Harvin also returned kicks and, while he cleanly fielded the majority of the kicks, he did drop at least one kick and one punt. Harvin practiced returning kicks at Florida, but he was never used in that capacity in game situations.

  • In addition to Harvin, Jaymar Johnson, Glenn Holt and Darius Reynaud returned kickoffs.


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