EDEN PRAIRIE (AP) -- Starting Sunday, this young, new and highly-praised starter for the Minnesota Vikings will get his hands on the ball on every snap he's in the game.
No, not Daunte Culpepper.
The third-year player from Harvard takes over at center for Pro Bowler Jeff Christy, who bolted along with guard Randall McDaniel to Tampa Bay.
Because of that, he's been in the spotlight all offseason, although not as much as Culpepper, the Vikings' second-year quarterback who will also make his first professional start Sunday against the Chicago Bears.
Culpepper and Birk are definitely in this thing together.
"I like the fact that he's new and I'm new and maybe it's a center-quarterback combination that we can work on for years to come," Birk said Wednesday. "We're growing together. We're both making mistakes. But in meetings we're both watching film together so we're both on the same page."
Culpepper likes to tell reporters that while he doesn't have a seasoned snapper, he does have the smartest center in the league.
And offensive line coach Mike Tice likes telling everyone that Birk will be the next great center in the NFL.
"Sometimes I wish he wouldn't say it, but he has expectations put on me and I really value his input as a coach. If he thinks that, it's flattering," Birk said. "But it's also motivation for me to just work hard day in and day out and see what happens."
Fellow St. Paul native Corbin Lacina, who will miss Sunday's game with a sprained knee, will play alongside Birk on the Vikings' revamped line that shined in the exhibition season.
"The whole line's done well, but that was preseason and doesn't mean anything," Birk said. "We're going to be blitzed a lot more. So, we've got to step it up."
Birk said he didn't have butterflies for Sunday and he didn't think Culpepper did, either.
"Daunte's been poised all preseason, I don't think we have to worry about him," he said. "He knows what he has to do to get ready. And I know myself. I know the first preseason game against New Orleans, I was pretty hyped up and throughout the rest of the preseason I kind of tried to guard against that."
Culpepper and Birk worked well together in the preseason. There were no bad snaps or poor exchanges, nothing.
Birk credited a vigorous offseason workout schedule.
"Daunte and me started getting together in February and doing the basic stuff, just doing the snapping and pulling and things like that," Birk said. "It's been real gradual. It's not just like we showed up at training camp and gave this thing a shot. We were working on it all offseason."
When he wasn't working with Culpepper, Birk spent his time working on his basement at his duplex in St. Paul, which he rents to his friends.
"I just fixed it up so it's just barely livable so whatever government body comes in, they can't shut me down," Birk said. "I can live down there with my dog."
Birk also bleached his hair during training camp and likes doffing his cap during the ever-increasing television interviews.
"I call it white-gold. People say it doesn't really fit my personality, they see me as a conservative guy. But I've got a little wild side to me, too," he said.
"I was going for Eminem, the rapper, but people say I'm the 320-pound Billy Idol."
Notes: The Vikings are opening at home for just the third time in Dennis Green's nine seasons as coach. ... The Vikings will celebrate their 40th season by opening against the Bears, the same team they made their NFL debut against in 1961, when they upset Chicago 37-13 before losing their next seven. ... The Bears are opening the season on the road for just the second time since 1983. ... The only other Vikings player listed on the injury report Wednesday was defensive end Michael Boireau (knee), who's questionable. The Bears listed tight end Dustin Lyman (shoulder) as questionable and linebackers Khari Samuel (knee) and Ty Hallock (abdomen) as probable.
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