MANKATO, Minn. –After playing 11 seasons in the NFL and all three positions on the interior of the offensive line, Joe Berger still embraces competition.
Now halfway through Vikings training camp, Berger said he maintains a mentality each season that he's on the field to work, get better and compete.
"I mean, whether you're the starter for eight years and have a rookie coming in, or [whatever the situation], it doesn't matter," Berger told media following Thursday afternoon's practice. "They're always trying to form competition – that's what makes the NFL the way it is. That's why we're all here; that's why there are 90 guys on the roster right now."
While John Sullivan was sidelined during the 2015 season, Berger started all 16 games at center. With Sullivan back on the field this year, the two have been splitting first-team reps over the first six practices. Berger said he views it less as competing against Sullivan, however, and more about competing against his own performance.
"I take the simple approach that I'm here to compete for whatever, more against myself than against anything else," Berger said. "I have to be the best that I can be, and then the coaches can sort all that out at the end of camp.
"I try to get better, and I think I've been improving every day," he added. "That's what camp's for, and that's what I'm focusing on."
Following the 2015 season, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer decided changes needed to be made in the offensive line room. In addition to signing tackle Andre Smith and guard Alex Boone in free agency, the Vikings also hired former head coach Tony Sparano as the new offensive line coach.
Berger said Sparano is a great coach who's made a difference within the mentality of their group and isn't afraid to be vocal.
"He wants to get the best out of you," Berger said. "He's going to get it out of you however he thinks is the right way to do it, and sometimes that's yelling at you.
"I think a great coach knows when that works and when it doesn't," he continued. "[Tony] knows when to use it and when to use a different tactic."
Each day at practice, Sparano runs the unit through a series of position drills. He stands in the midst of his players, hands on his hips, assessing from beneath a backwards ball cap. He often directs the linemen, "Open your hips."
Berger said the instruction is Sparano's way of reminding them to give it all they have.
"Everything about the offensive line, all your power is in your hips," Berger said. "If you don't use them, you don't have the power that you've worked in the weight room to gain. He's trying to get the most out of us."
Even after 11 seasons, the 34-year-old father of four says there are still areas he can improve, and he's soaking up as much knowledge as he can from Sparano and teammates alike, including Sullivan.
"John's a great guy," Berger said. "He's been a great center here for a long time, and he does nothing but the help the room.
"Having guys like John in the locker room, they kind of teach me to see the bigger picture a little better as a center," Berger continued. "You know, just kind of putting it together."
Berger, who holds a mechanical engineering degree from Michigan Tech, said it was that kind of studying and applying on the field that helped him step up and have a successful season in 2015. While he's confident in his abilities, Berger is also comfortable with bringing all he can to the table and letting the coaches do the evaluating. He said he takes a "day-by-day approach" and only worries about what he can control.
"I think the coaches know what they have in me, good and bad," Berger said. "I just have to come out here and show them that I'm ready to still work."