Line reserves must step up for Vikings

Pressure is on team's battered offensive line

Associated Press

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Randy Moss' return will give Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper another dangerous weapon when Minnesota hosts Jacksonville on Sunday.

The question is, will the Vikings' depleted offensive line give Culpepper enough time to get his star receiver the ball?

The absences of center Matt Birk, who will miss four weeks after undergoing sports hernia surgery Friday, and right tackle Nat Dorsey, who is nursing a sprained right shoulder, opens two ominous holes up front for the Vikings' high-powered offense.


Accordingly, Minnesota's hope to take another step toward the playoffs this week will fall heavily on the shoulders of two low-profile reserves: tackle Adam Goldberg and center Cory Withrow.

Injuries are nothing new for the Vikings line, which lost starting right tackle Mike Rosenthal to a season-ending foot injury in Week 2.

Adam Haayer played just two series the following week before Dorsey, a fourth-round pick out of Georgia Tech, stepped in and won the starting job.

With Dorsey sidelined this week, Goldberg will make his first NFL start -- and become the Vikings' fourth starting right tackle in 11 games this season.

Goldberg got off to an inauspicious start on his second play last week, missing a block that allowed Lions end Cory Redding to tackle Onterrio Smith in the Vikings' end zone.

After his brutal baptism, however, Goldberg settled in nicely.

"I got all my bad nerves out of me on that safety," said Goldberg, who grew up in the Minneapolis suburb of Edina. "I'm rolling now."

Dorsey's recent inconsistency also could open the door for Goldberg to keep the job for the rest of the season -- if the local kid is successful this week.


"It'd be real hard to replace a player if you win and he plays real well," Vikings coach Mike Tice said.

Birk's monthlong absence may open a larger weakness at center, where Withrow will make just the third start of his five-year career Sunday.

Withrow, best known for snapping to former first-round bust Ryan Leaf at Washington State, had his only start this season cut short by a sprained knee.

But Vikings coaches remain optimistic that Withrow will hold down the position until Birk is healthy.

"I've said for years, he's the best backup center in the league," Tice said. "I'm not going to shy away from that comment now. We're very, very comfortable with Cory."

For Goldberg and Withrow, the formula for success is simple: Stay calm, and play like it's just another practice.

"Whoever's over you, it doesn't really matter," Goldberg said. "It's how you execute."

That, and how long you stay healthy.

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