MINNEAPOLIS -- Gone are two familiar faces from the Minnesota Vikings' revamped offensive line.
Randall McDaniel and Jeff Christy are now in Tampa Bay, replaced by journeyman Corbin Lacina and first-time starter Matt Birk, who were best friends and business partners long before they became linemates.
Birk, a third-year pro from Harvard, takes over at center and Lacina, a seventh-year pro, steps in at left guard, although a sprained right knee will keep him out of the opener.
Both are weary of the comparisons to their Pro Bowl predecessors.
"We're not going to be the next Jeff Christy and Randall McDaniel," Birk said. "We're going to be Matt Birk and Corbin Lacina."
And it's going to take a while for the Vikings to adjust to the loss of Christy and McDaniel, who had a combined 19 years' worth of NFL experience and 13 trips to the Pro Bowl on their resumes.
"It's different, I'll grant you that," right guard David Dixon said. "But we just have to move on with the guys we have and go with the flow. Right now, I'm liking what I see and what I feel out there."
So is first-year quarterback Daunte Culpepper.
"I have all the faith in the world in Corbin and Matt," Culpepper said. "I like our line. There's some big guys in front of me."
For the first time, every starter on the Vikings' retooled line weighs more than 300 pounds. With Birk (316) and Lacina (305) joining Dixon (358), Todd Steussie (316) and Korey Stringer (346), the Vikings might even have the heaviest line in the NFL this season.
Until Lacina returns to action, he'll be replaced by supersub Chris Liwienski (320 pounds), who backs up every position but center.
It may take some time for the line to mesh, but Lacina, who has started 38 games over seven seasons at Buffalo and Carolina, and Birk certainly won't have to get used to working together.
They co-own an athletic training center in their hometown of St. Paul, where they both attended national powerhouse Cretin-Derham Hall High School.
"We've been working out together like five or six years now," Birk said. "We're business partners. We're good friends. I see a lot of Corbin Lacina, much more than I'd like to some days. We're roommates. We're pretty much stuck together for life, I think."
Lacina and Birk met at a gym in St. Paul when Birk was an eighth-grader and Lacina was a freshman at Augustana College in South Dakota. They became good friends when Lacina played for the Buffalo Bills and Birk was at Harvard.
Every summer, they worked out together. Two years ago, they went into business together, opening Total Athlete Fitness Center.
These days, the two are spending their time trying to keep Culpepper off his back.
"A lot of people say, 'Oh, there's so much pressure on you, you've got big shoes to fill,"' Birk said. "I think the pressure's all just fabricated. You know, this is football. I've been playing it for a long time. Sure, there's a little less margin for error this year. But that's the way it goes. I'm not trying to be the next Jeff Christy."
Offensive line coach Mike Tice says, however, that Birk could become one of the next great centers in the NFL.
"Some guys go through their whole career and never really get a shot," Birk said. "This is an opportunity I'm pretty fortunate to have and I'm going to make the most of it."
And Birk's excited for Lacina, too.
"He's started before at other places, but I'm happy that he's back here at Minnesota, happy for him and his family that he's going to be here year-round and have a little bit more stability in their lives, too."
Lacina said he's happy to finally play alongside his good friend.
"We're just two guys with the same desire and drive," Lacina said.
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