San Francisco 49ers

Vikings lose starting center; Minnesota defense expecting read option

The Vikings have had extra time to prepare for Colin Kaepernick and his ability to run the read option.
The Vikings have had extra time to prepare for Colin Kaepernick and his ability to run the read option. The Bee

SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers won’t be the only team with an offensive line that’s been reshuffled just before the start of the season.

The Vikings today announced that starting center John Sullivan has been placed on the injured reserve/designated-to-return list after having spinal surgery. Sullivan, who had been experiencing back spasms recently, started all 16 games for the team the last three seasons.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that veteran Joe Berger will start at center in Monday’s game. Berger started two of Minnesota’s five preseason games.

The 49ers, of course, only settled on a starting offensive line last week. The two players on the right side, Erik Pears at tackle and Jordan Devey at guard, are newcomers, and Devey only arrived after an Aug. 18 trade. Meanwhile, center Marcus Martin has started at games as a rookie last year while left guard Alex Boone played on the right side heretofore in his career.

San Francisco’s starting offensive line played seven snaps together in the preseason.

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One of the advantages of having a quarterback capable of running a read-option attack is that it gives the opposing defense extra homework and extra headaches in the run-up to the game.

The 49ers' leverage, however, is mitigated a bit this week. In Teddy Bridgewater, the Vikings have a quarterback who can run the read option and their defense is familiar with it from practice. Minnesota also has known it would face Colin Kaepernick in Week 1 since April and have been preparing accordingly.

"We know they've done that in the past and obviously we've done it," head coach Mike Zimmer said of the read option on a conference call. "So I would be surprised if we didn't get some."

Zimmer said the Vikings weren't paying much attention to what the 49ers' offense did in the preseason. While the team gave backup Blaine Gabbert plenty of read-option plays, Kaepernick mostly concentrated on drop-back passing.

A long-time defensive coordinator, Zimmer said all coaching staffs tend to hide their best plays in the preseason, especially new staffs like Jim Tomsula's.

Instead, he said the best approach to Week 1 is to study the coordinators' tendencies. So what does an opponent do with 49ers offensive coordinator Geep Chryst, who is 15 years removed from his last job as offensive coordinator?

"We try to look at what their strengths are and what we feel their strengths are and the things they can do with it," Zimmer said. "Obviously they've got some really good players on that side of the ball."

Matt Barrows: @mattbarrows, read more about the team at sacbee.com/sf49ers.

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