Birk likely out 3-4 months after hip surgery

Updated: June 1, 2005, 7:28 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

Four-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk, a mainstay of the Minnesota Vikings' offensive line, underwent hip surgery Tuesday that could sideline him all of summer training camp and perhaps jeopardize his availability for the start of the regular season.

Matt Birk
Birk

The surgery, to repair a torn labrum in Birk's right hip, is the fourth procedure to which the seven-year veteran has been subjected over the past nine months. The three earlier operations were all to repair sports hernias. Birk believes the hip injury resulted from the sports hernias.

"This is all a function of having tried to compensate for [the hernias]," said Birk, who has missed all of the offseason conditioning program. "When they checked out the hernia, to see how it was progressing, they found this thing. Hopefully, this will take care of it."

Normal recovery time for the labrum surgery is 3-4 months. So even under the best-case scenario, Birk likely would not be fully rehabilitated until early September, leaving him little time to prepare for the Vikings' regular-season opener on Sept. 11.

Birk is the second client of agent Joe Linta to suffer a torn labrum in his hip during the offseason. Veteran quarterback Jim Miller sustained a similar injury and, after surgery, was subsequently released by the New York Giants with an injury settlement. Miller was to have served as the primary backup to Eli Manning for the '05 season.

Miller has demonstrated excellent progress, and Linta said Tuesday that he hopes Birk's recovery is as expeditious.

Birk is a key to coach Mike Tice's plans to return to the strong inside running game that Minnesota seemed to abandon too easily in 2004, when the Vikings too often turned to the pass and, thus, sacrificed offensive balance.

The Vikings are not concerned that the rash of surgeries will have long-term implications for Birk, who has made the Pro Bowl four times.

"Anytime you go through surgery, it's not something you want to do, but the time of the year has made it to where now he can really fully rehab and take time so that when he comes back he should be fully recovered," offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Steve Loney said Wednesday. "None of the surgeries have been something that were considered to be career threatening or any of that stuff."

If Birk is not available for the start of the season, five-year veteran Cory Withrow will start at center – something he did for five games last year while Birk battled injuries – in what figures to be a largely refurbished interior of the offensive line.

The Vikings have already moved left guard Chris Liwienski to the right side to replace longtime veteran David Dixon, an unrestricted free agent who could be re-signed but only as a backup. Former tackle Adam Goldberg was moved to left guard, but that position is unsettled and could ultimately be won by rookie Marcus Johnson, a second-round choice who played tackle in college but performed well at guard in recent practices.

A former Harvard star and sixth-round pick in the 1998 draft, Birk appeared in just 12 games in 2004, with 11 starts. Birk, who had never played center before being moved there by the Vikings, had started all 16 games in each of the 2000-03 seasons. He was named to the Pro Bowl in 2000, 2001, 2003 and 2004.

Birk was not on the field Wednesday as the Vikings opened their June developmental camp. Running back Moe Williams and receiver Kelly Campbell were also gone, but Loney said they were excused for personal reasons.

Cornerback Brian Williams, unhappy with losing his starting spot to free agent signee Fred Smoot, and safety Corey Chavous, who is unhappy with his contract, also did not show.

Birk participated in the team's first developmental camp last month as a pseudo-coach, helping younger players grasp the offense and blocking schemes. But Loney knows his veteran is itching to get out there with his teammates.

"He's such a competitor and he's such a leader of our team and it's frustrating to him to have to be leading and staying on the sidelines," Loney said.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here Insider.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.