View Full Version : Birk makes an exuberant return

04-08-2006, 12:27 PM
Birk makes an exuberant return
Kevin Seifert, Star Tribune

His smile wasn't the typical Birk smirk. It wasn't a mischievous sneer or a polite grin. No, Matt Birk was simply beaming, a genuine expression of delight from a player who has had little cause for excitement the past two years.

The Vikings had plenty to celebrate Friday as they opened veteran minicamp at Winter Park. A new coaching staff was in place, a 10-man class of free agents was in uniform and the drama of another tumultuous offseason seemed a distant memory.

No less important was the return of the Vikings' Pro Bowl center, who practiced without pain for the first time in two years. After five surgeries and amid questions about his long-term durability, Birk took every snap with the first-team offense and was unusually buoyant afterwards.

"This whole thing has absolutely changed my outlook," he said. "To be able to wake up, to practice and go through everything pain-free, it just puts you in a great mood. I had plenty of bad plays. I'm rusty. But I'll worry about those things tomorrow. I'm just happy I made it through today.

"Just to be out there was very therapeutic for me."

Birk's last healthy season came in 2003, the third of his four Pro Bowl years. He played 12 games in 2004 while battling three sports hernias, and then sat out all of 2005 after undergoing surgery on each hip to repair related problems.

The number of procedures and the duration of his layoff caused some to wonder when, or whether, Birk would resume his career. Birk had the same questions until two months ago, when he said he turned the corner in his rehabilitation.

"One day, I was just out doing my running," he said. "I was about halfway through the workout and I just kind of realized that I wasn't trying to gauge how I felt. I was just running and doing my thing. That's when I knew that I was fully healed."

The Vikings are counting on it. They jettisoned both centers from last season, Cory Withrow and Melvin Fowler, and instead signed free agent Jason Whittle to back up Birk and both guard positions. Whittle took all second-team snaps at center Friday, but he is not considered a candidate to play the position full-time.

"It's huge to have a center [like Birk] that is a smart guy, that is a physical player in there directing both sides of the line," coach Brad Childress said. "He did everything we asked him to do today."

Friday, Birk said he felt "a little like a rookie." The Vikings have changed their offensive system for the first time in his nine-year career, and like his teammates, Birk is learning additional terminology, new line calls and different blocking schemes.

He welcomes those challenges when compared to those of the past two years. Before developing the first sports hernia in the summer of 2004, Birk had started 66 consecutive games, including the playoffs.

"If you were like me," he said, "and you went through a couple of seasons and were never injured, you never missed any games, maybe you start taking things for granted ... just the chance to be out there and the chance to compete. If it's never been taken away from you, you don't realize it. You appreciate something more when you don't have it."

Friday's practices served more as a cardiovascular workout than a true football practice. Players were in jerseys and shorts, and Childress made sure to keep contact at a minimum. But anyone who saw Birk sprint 20 yards downfield on a running play could tell there was something extra in it for him.

"I've been cleared and I'm just going to try to play hard," he said. "If it happens again, it happens again. For the last two years, I've had to stress about it, and that's been as bad as the injury itself. I'm not going to worry about it anymore."

Instead, he'll just smile.

04-08-2006, 02:37 PM
I anxious to see Birk back on the line snapping the ball.

04-08-2006, 02:52 PM
Posted on Sat, Apr. 08, 2006

Birk back on the field

Return 'therapeutic,' oft-injured center says

Pioneer Press

Matt Birk complained of feeling a bit rusty Friday after the opening day of the Vikings' three-day veteran minicamp.

Considering all the physical problems the Pro Bowl center has endured the past two seasons, that's something he can handle.

In his first football activity since undergoing hip labrum surgery in September, Birk said it felt good just to be out on the practice field running around again.

"I never once thought about past injuries," he said. "I just was out there competing and playing ball."

The list of injuries is a long one for Birk, who had labrum surgery on his other hip last offseason after undergoing three sports hernia operations in 2004.

Birk said he knew he had turned the corner on this latest surgery while running about six or eight weeks ago.

"About halfway through the workout, I just kind of realized I wasn't trying to gauge how I felt," he said. "I was just running and doing my thing. That's when I kind of knew that I was fully healed because mentally I kind of cleared the hurdle."

Birk said he feels as good now as he did before his injury problems began, with one notable exception: "I don't take it for granted anymore."

"I've thought I've been out of the woods before and haven't been," he said. "Just to be out there again today, that was very therapeutic for me."

After being sidelined for such an extended period, Birk said just getting down in a stance again felt strange, and he has some new line calls, blocks and terminology to learn with the Vikings switching to the West Coast offense.

"With the new system, it was like being really rusty," he said. "I almost felt like a rookie again, but that's OK. I'll take it."

So will coach Brad Childress, who knows what a healthy Birk can mean to his offense.

"He's the guy that's telling everybody which direction to go," Childress said. "That's huge to have a center that's a smart guy, that's a physical player in there, directing both sides of that offensive line."

Who's No. 1? Anthony Herrera worked with the first unit at right guard ahead of Adam Goldberg during the morning practice, but Childress cautioned not to read too much into it.

"We're rolling numbers of guys through there," he said. "We're asking them to be position-flexible. We're asking guys to play tackle that normally play guard and see if they have an aptitude that way."

Childress said the same goes for linebacker, where Dontarrious Thomas worked with the first unit in the middle, with E.J. Henderson and Ben Leber splitting time at strong-side and weak-side linebacker.

Leber sat out the afternoon practice, as scheduled, to rest the foot he injured last season in San Diego, and Goldberg worked with the first unit at right guard.

Number changes: In addition to wide receiver Troy Williamson, who has traded in the 19 he wore last season for his old college 82, a handful of other players are sporting new numbers.

Cornerback Fred Smoot has switched from 27 to the 21 that formerly belonged to safety Corey Chavous, who signed with St. Louis as a free agent.

Tight end Richard Owens has switched to 33, with fullback Tony Richardson getting his former 49.

Free-agent guard Steve Hutchinson is wearing the same 76 he did in Seattle, with guard Chris Liwienski switching to 67. Hutchinson said he had to work out a deal with Liwienski but declined to say whether any money changed hands.

Walking wounded: Three players who had offseason surgeries were limited participants.

Punter Chris Kluwe (knee) was in uniform but didn't do any kicking.

Running back Mewelde Moore (wrist) took part in all the individual drills but still is unable to catch the ball.

Safety Willie Offord (knee) went through the warm-up and individual drills only but is expected to be ready for the May 12-14 minicamp, according to Childress.

Briefly: University of Minnesota running back Laurence Maroney will visit with the Vikings this week.

Don Seeholzer can be reached at dseeholzer@pioneerpress.com.

Birk back on the field (http://www.twincities.com/mld/twincities/sports/football/14293355.htm?source=rss&channel=twincities_football)

04-08-2006, 02:56 PM
Yay! THIS is gonna be good! Woohoo!

04-08-2006, 04:32 PM
marooney visitng the vikes, uh oh...