When veteran offensive lineman Dalton Risner signed with the Vikings last month, it seemed like only a matter of time before he was in the starting lineup, whether that be in place of left guard Ezra Cleveland or right guard Ed Ingram.
Instead, the 28-year-old Risner has been biding his time on the sidelines. After starting 62 games with the Denver Broncos earlier in his career, Risner has lived the life of a backup for the first time in his career.
How has he handled that change?
“Every time I have he desire to get onto the field, I ask myself, ‘What can I control?’ ” Risner said. “Then I work my (expletive) off to make sure I’m ready when I’m called upon.”
That time finally came for Risner last weekend when Cleveland suffered a foot injury with the Vikings leading the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Risner raced into the huddle and played 10 snaps on offense in relief.
“I was able to go out there and execute,” Risner said. “That’s what I want to be able to do.”
His performance garnered praise from head coach Kevin O’Connell.
“You can tell the game makes sense to him when he’s in there no matter the post snap movement or the look of the defense,” O’Connell said. “He can adapt and get the job done regardless of what the circumstances were going in the game, like that against a team that was moving a lot up front.”
It was a similar assessment from offensive coordinator Wes Phillips.
“He did everything we asked him to do,” Phillips said. He played very hard and was sprinting down the field when a run got down there, trying to pick guys off before the play was dead. He worked his technique and fundamentals. He’s got a good calming presence there.”
That’s something the Vikings could be relying when they host the San Francisco 49ers on Monday Night Football. Though there hasn’t been any official word on Cleveland’s availability for the primetime game, he hasn’t practiced this week, meaning Risner could get the nod.
It would be a much different perspective for Risner after spending the past month watching from the sidelines while also making sure he was ready at a moment’s notice.
“A guy can go down and there’s maybe a 30-second window to get in the game,” Risner said. “You’ve got to stay prepared. You’ve got to stay locked in. You’ve got to know what all of the guys are doing out there.”
All the while, Risner knew there was a good chance he still might not get in the game. That’s the life of a backup in the NFL.
“You never know, and that’s the hardest part,” Risner said. “It takes a lot of discipline.”
Not once did Risner think about petitioning for more playing time. He prides himself on being a good teammate and making everybody around him better.
“I’m going to show up, put my head down, and go to work,” Risner said. “I want to earn the respect of this locker room, and I want to do that without saying a word.”
He’s done that with his preparation in practices. Now he needs to continue to do that with his play in games.
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