Six years ago, John Sullivan arrived in Mankato as a rookie. The Minnesota Vikings center had been selected in the sixth round of the 2008 draft, and there was some speculation that he could one day succeed popular veteran Matt Birk.
“I don’t know if I was brought in to be a replacement,” Sullivan recalled during the Vikings’ minicamp last month at the team’s Winter Park headquarters in Eden Prairie. “You know, a sixth-round pick, the writing’s not necessarily on the wall. It’s still long odds to get there.”
Sullivan more than overcame those odds.
When the Vikings report to Minnesota State University on Thursday for this summer’s nearly three-week training camp, Sullivan will be as secure in his spot on the offensive line as Birk was in the years before Sullivan was drafted.
He will be one of just two returning starters on the line, and it looks like he’ll be coming back to Mankato for at least a few more years, as he signed a five-year contract extension worth a reported $25 million last December.
“It feels good that I’m playing at a level where (the Vikings) felt comfortable enough to make a commitment in my future here,” he said. “I’d like to say all the pressure’s off because I feel financially stable, but that’s not the way it is.”
Getting to this point started in that first training camp when Sullivan studied Birk, Anthony Herrera and other interior linemen and tried to learn from them.
“I would ask them questions,” Sullivan said. “I think the onus is on the (new) guy to try to pick the other guy’s brain.
“So I would ask questions and see how they carry themselves. I think it’s important when you’re young to find a guy that you want your career to follow and see how they carry themselves.”
Now Sullivan’s the player who is the role model.
With Herrera and Steve Hutchinson departed from Minnesota, Sullivan said he expects to be a team leader during training camp.
“It’s just the way this game goes,” he said. “Guys get older and move on, and we’re a team that’s getting younger. ... It’s a leadership role that I need to embrace at this point.”
Sullivan said he expects the Vikings to improve from last year’s 3-13 record, and that improvement starts with training camp.
“We’re building camaraderie and chemistry right now,” he said. “Obviously, there are lot of guys playing new positions; it’s a younger group than before.
“I feel like we’re healthier. We’re very hungry, and I think were champing at the bit a little bit to get some pads on.
“Playing with just helmets on isn’t that much fun for the offensive line. So that will be nice come training camp.”
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