The Redskins needed help at center. John Sullivan needed a job. The two were a good a match this week.
Sullivan, 31, a long-time starting center for the Minnesota Vikings, was cut on Aug. 30. A pair of back surgeries ruined his 2015 season and Sullivan lost the competition. Unable to trade him, the Vikings cut him instead. Just like that an offensive line mainstay was gone. Sullivan started 93 of 96 games there between 2009 and 2014.
“I got to say – before the back injury I thought I could play through anything,” Sullivan said. “And I had played through a lot. It’s not that you never get injured if you start a lot of games in a row, it’s that you put up with a lot of BS. I thought I could play through anything and I was wrong.”
The Redskins lost starting center Kory Lichtensteiger on Sunday to a calf injury. Initially described as a moderate strain and a “week-to-week” injury, the team instead put Lichtensteiger on IR Tuesday.
For now, backup offensive linemen Spencer Long is the starting center. He spent the entire offseason both competing for the starting job at left guard and taking all second-team repetitions at center. Long will likely start Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns. But Sullivan will be up to speed quickly in case he’s needed.
“We’re going to get [Sullivan] ready to play,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “We like that he’s played center for a long time and has been very successful, that’s number one for a true center. If need be, when he comes in there if something happens to Spencer he’ll be ready to go. He’s a very bright guy and will help this football team in the long run.”
Sullivan didn’t leave town after visiting Washington’s headquarters in suburban Virginia on Monday and signing with the Redskins on Tuesday, He simply went right to team meetings and began working with offensive line coach Bill Callahan and his new teammates.
“It just takes time to get calls down,” Sullivan said. “Conceptually, most football is pretty much the same. I mean there are certain changes here and there. And I’ve played in a few systems so there is some carryover – more from the first system I was in in Minnesota. But it’s just getting Bill’s calls down, Bill’s techniques. All that stuff. But the guys are helping me along.”
Added quarterback Kirk Cousins on adjusting to a new center: ““There’s a rhythm there – but like today at practice, I felt like it was already pretty well-established with Spencer because he’s been playing center all the way through the offseason program and training camp and he’s been here now for a few years. We played with Josh LeRibeus, I think, for about 10 games, 11 games last year and we played pretty well. It’s just a part of the process, I think. What we always worked on with Josh was just the snaps because he had been a guard through his past, so the shotgun snaps would occasionally be off-mark a little bit, but it didn’t derail our offense – we were still very productive. So if that’s the worst thing you can come up with, then it’s not the end of the world. We’ll be fine.”
Sullivan says he’s felt healthy since April when the Vikings offseason program began. He felt no restrictions. He could just play for the first time in 18 months. But that wasn’t enough to beat Joe Berger for his old center job. Berger had replaced Sullivan last season.
But Sullivan is in a better frame of mine after the two back surgeries. Back pain hasn’t been an issue for him all year. He’s started to forget he was ever hurt. Even when not taking snaps he watches with backup quarterback Colt McCoy to get the terminology and play calls down. At the very least, Sullivan wants to be ready if called upon.
“What my role is? That’s up to the coaches completely,” Sullivan said. “But I’ll have it down quick.”
Follow Redskins reporter Brian McNally on Twitter.