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Updated: August 21st, 2011 11:08pm
Notebook: Vikings face decision on Anthony Herrera, right guard spot

Notebook: Vikings face decision on Anthony Herrera, right guard spot

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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The Minnesota Vikings have 12 days to sort out their situation at right guard -- and figure out what to do with longtime starter Anthony Herrera.

Second-year pro Chris DeGeare took all the reps in training camp and started the preseason opener on Aug. 13 at Tennessee. Journeyman Scott Kooistra started Saturday's exhibition at Seattle and acquitted himself well.

Herrera, who is coming off knee reconstruction and triceps surgery, returned to practice last week and figures to take snaps with the first unit when the team reconvenes on Monday afternoon. But it's not a given at this stage Herrera will make the 53-man roster, much less reclaim the starting job he has held since 2007.

"I'm hoping next week we have a better handle" about who will start, coach Leslie Frazier said on Thursday. "But I don't know if that will be for certain, because we are still taking a hard look at the guard position and we just have to see how that unfolds. You would like to be able to say in that third preseason game that this is our starting unit, but that may not be the case."

The biggest unknown is how quickly Herrera can return to game shape. Still less than nine months removed from surgery to replace the torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, Herrera was beaten so badly in one-on-one drills upon his return that coaches gave Kooistra all the first-team reps in practice by week's end.

At 31, Herrera is due $2.65 million in base salary and has a salary-cap number of $3,583,333 -- a virtually prohibitive price for a backup even if the Vikings weren't strapped by the salary cap. But it remains to be seen if the Vikings are comfortable enough with the alternatives to even consider letting Herrera go when it comes to final cuts on Sept. 3.

Kooistra is a career backup who hasn't started a game since 2005. DeGeare came on as a fill-in late last season, but he spent last week at right tackle -- not the sort of experiment coaches generally try with a player they plan to start.

"That's something we took a look at this week and just trying to find guys who can give us some position flexibility, and (DeGeare) may be one of those guys," Frazier said after Saturday's game. "He could easily be taking reps this week at guard."

Herrera, who has declined all interview requests, is a scrapper who has overcome his physical limitations again and again since joining the team as an undrafted free agent in 2004. If the Vikings feel he's getting closer, they may be willing to go with Kooistra, DeGeare or Ryan Cook in the short term and wait for Herrera to be ready.

Until that happens, though, it'd cost them $155,882 a week and a roster spot once the regular season begins. Because Herrera practiced last week, he's no longer eligible for the reserve/physically unable to perform list.

Backup day

Most of the Vikings' defensive starters exited by the third series on Saturday night, giving backups plenty of opportunities against Seattle's first-string offense.

No one shined more than the backup offensive line.

Left end Adrian Awasom had two quarterback hits, four total pressures and a defended pass. Right end Everson Griffen had two quarterback hits of his own. And defensive tackle Letroy Guion factored in three of Seattle's four failed runs from inside the Vikings' 2-yard line during an impressive goal-line stand.

"It just lets you know that our guys don't feel as if they have to be second to anyone," Frazier said. "They're fighting to make this team, and we really have a mantra that we're going to defend a blade of grass, if that's what it takes for us to win. Those guys went out there and stood up in a big situation and really gave us some momentum in that ballgame."

Outside the box

Rookie quarterback Christian Ponder completed only 1 of his first 6 passes on Saturday.

Then, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave called a series of bootlegs and play-action passes that got Ponder where he's most comfortable -- on the move -- and he finished 6-of-12 for 63 yards.

"They were working," said Ponder, who also ran three times for 15 yards. "They kept giving us the edge. We kept taking it."

Ponder took second-team reps ahead of Joe Webb, who had been the No. 2 quarterback against Tennessee. Starting quarterback Donovan McNabb likely will play the entire first half -- if not more -- this week against Dallas, meaning the top backup job may be sorted out in the preseason finale on Sept. 1 against Houston.

"The biggest thing is just the speed of the game," Ponder said. "On top of that, learning this offense, building good chemistry. But the biggest adjustment is the windows aren't as open as they were in college, and you've got to make the reads a lot faster and get the ball out a lot quicker than last year."

Quick hits

• In the first-team offense's 15 snaps on Saturday, Musgrave deployed five personnel groups. One of them was a two-tight end with rookie Kyle Rudolph standing up in the slot on four snaps.

• The Vikings will treat this week as a simulation of regular-season preparation, including some game-planning for the Cowboys. "It will be interesting to see," LT Charlie Johnson said. "Hopefully, we can improve next week like we did coming into this week."

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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