A Closer Look At Jeff Davidson And The Offensive Line

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 8, 2011 – 5:58 pm

Over the next five days on the Blog, we’ll breakdown the Vikings roster position-by-position to give fans a comprehensive assessment of the team as the first preseason game – this Saturday night in Tennessee – approaches. First up is the offensive line.

Jeff Davidson is not a household name in Minnesota. At least not yet. But given how badly Vikings fans want the offensive line to improve this season, something tells me Davidson’s efforts will not go unnoticed.

Davidson is the Vikings offensive line coach and he brings to Minnesota a wide array of experience and also a pedigree of being around successful football programs. He was an offensive lineman and team captain at Ohio State, played for the Denver Broncos for five seasons in the 1990s and eventually got into coaching. After stops in New Orleans and Cleveland, Davidson landed with the New England Patriots on Bill Belichick’s staff, where he was a part of three Super Bowl-winning teams. Following his time in New England, Davidson jumped to Carolina, where he was the offensive coordinator and guided offenses that featured explosive rushing attacks and powerful offensive lines.

With the Vikings, Davidson has the personnel in place to retool an offensive line that features talented and capable players. At least three starters will return for Week 1 – LG Steve Hutchinson, C John Sullivan and RT Phil Loadholt – and a couple of them (Hutchinson and Sullivan) are finally healthy after battling injuries for most of the 2010 season. The Vikings will feature a new LT – probably Charlie Johnson, who replaces Bryant McKinnie – and right now second-year player Chris DeGeare is filling in for Anthony Herrera, who is on the mend and is working hard to get back into the action.

Beyond those projected starters, Davidson has a deep pool of reserves (11 linemen total) that includes nine guys at or under the age of 25, including two draft picks from the 2011 class. The competition for roster spots is truly wide open and difficult to project at this point, even for the coaching staff.

“Am I willing to say [there are] truly ones (first stringers), twos and threes with this group? No, it’s just so I know who’s going to be in the practice at that time,” Davidson explained. “As time goes on, we’ll start whittling it down to who we think is going to help us and we’ll put our best five on the field, then the next six, next seven, next eight. That’s how you have to think of it.”

Although his depth chart is not well defined at this point, Davidson does seem pleased with the work habits of his group.

“I’m happy with the way that we’re working,” Davidson said. “I’ve been to places in the past where you had to really keep a boot up their butts, if you will, about making guys work. You don’t have to do that here. We’ve got guys that have not ‘arrived’ and are completely willing to work to get better.

“What I’m trying to force myself to see in this group, the biggest thing we have to do in the time period we’re trying to get them ready, is force them to see what’s occurring, communicate it out and get five guys acting like one. That’s really what I’m all about. In order to do that, you’ve got to get different guys playing next to each other, you’ve got to get them competing against different guys on defense, so it’s not the same daily grind.”

For what it’s worth, I did keep track of which players were working with which teams on Monday. Granted, this was just one day’s worth of practice, and depth charts change frequently during training camp, but I know many of you are curious to know who is playing. Here’s what I found on Monday…

– Seth Olsen filled in for Hutchinson at first-team LG for parts of Monday morning’s practice.
– Pat Brown and DeMarcus Love are alternating at second-team LT, with the nod going Brown at the moment. But don’t count Love out; he can probably play both LT and RT, plus I saw him get dinged up (knee) during practice and then quickly return, perhaps a display of the toughness you need in offensive linemen.
– Conan Amituanai and Byron Isom are alternating at second-team LG.
– Jon Cooper and Brandon Fusco are alternating at second-team center.
– Ryan Cook is the second-team RG and Rodney Huntley is right behind him.
– Thomas Welch and Scott Kooistra are alternating at second-team RT, but I think the slight edge goes to Kooistra here.

Finally, I asked Davidson about Loadholt. I think Loadholt had a fine rookie season and kind of plateaued in 2010. Now that’s he’s fully healthy and has Davidson as a tutor, I think Loadholt is poised to improve this year and perhaps develop into a dominant, road-grading blocker in the run game. Loadholt’s disposition off the field is calm and collected, but on the field he clearly has a mean streak, which is a good trait for an offensive lineman to possess.

It sounds like Davidson sees that mean streak as well. More importantly, though, Davidson sees a self-motivated player in Loadholt.

“Oh yeah, I do,” Davidson when asked if he saw the same mean streak in Loadholt that I see during games and practice. “I think he’s a tough guy. He’s another guy that you don’t have to [motivate] to practice hard. He just naturally does that. Those guys are easy to work with because they are constantly working.”

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Vikings Get Back To Work On Monday Morning

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 8, 2011 – 12:52 pm

The Vikings stayed away from the practice fields on Sunday after a solid practice on Saturday night inside Blakeslee Stadium and in front of a packed house. But on Monday head coach Leslie Frazier and Co. were back at it and the team picked up the intensity level quickly.

“We had a good, spirited practice out there this morning,” Frazier said. “After having a day off on Sunday and just getting a chance to have a good [practice] on Saturday, early on I was a little concerned about where their minds would be after having some time off. But they jumped right into it. It was a good practice for us and I don’t think we wasted any time out there. Hopefully we will build on that in our first week of preparation of a preseason game.”

The Vikings continue to benefit from outstanding weather here in Mankato. There have been some pretty hot and humid days, but the last three or four days have seen mild temperatures, plenty of cloud cover and only a slight breeze. Monday morning was perfect and a full crowd was on-hand to enjoy it. The team worked out in shorts, shoulder pads and helmets and then RBs signed autographs after practice in the Northland Ford Dealers Autograph Zone, probably a big reason why the crowd was so large.

Infirmary Report
This has been an incredibly smooth camp for the Vikings in many different ways, one of which has been injuries. But it’s time to knock on wood. The Vikings had several players sitting out on Monday, which shouldn’t be entirely surprising after a week of camp. TE Visanthe Shiancoe came up a little lame and Frazier said he may have tweaked his hamstring. S Tyrell Johnson did not practice today, also because of a hamstring issue. DE Adrian Awasom (illness) didn’t practice, WR Percy Harvin was limited (winded), RG Anthony Herrera continues to sit out of practice as he has all of camp and LG Steve Hutchinson (shoulder) was also limited.

Play of the Day
The best play of the morning practice came during a full team portion of practice. QB Joe Webb scrambled out of the pocket to his left to avoid the pass rush and bought enough time for WR Manny Arceneaux to sprint away from the defense and get open downfield. Webb threw the ball with enough power to hit Arceneaux in stride down the left sideline for what would’ve been a very long TD, right in front of the packed bleachers at Field #1.

Frazier on CBs Cook, Griffin
A position to watch during camp and the preseason is CB, where Antoine Winfield is the only sure thing right now. I think Cedric Griffin has looked outstanding all of camp, but he is coming back from two consecutive major knee injuries. Chris Cook is another who is coming back from injury but has definitely looked good during camp.

Frazier was asked about both guys during his Monday morning press conference. Here’s what he had to say…
– On Cedric Griffin coming back from injury: “What he is doing right now is exceptional, the fact that he’s out there participating in practice, preparing to play in the NFL again, having a second ACL injury, two within an eighteen-month period. That’s hard to put your mind around that you can come back and be practicing at the level at the level he’s practiced at; [it's] a testament to  who Cedric is and how hard he works and how great of an attitude and approach he has on life.”
– On Chris Cook potentially emerging as the 3rd CB: We still have quite a bit more football to go here, so we have to take a look at him and Ash (Asher Allen) and those guys and just see who rises to the top. What he’s doing in practice, it really gives you some hope that he’s on course, but we have a lot more to go before we get to San Diego.”

The Eye Test
To be honest I didn’t think as many guys stood out Monday morning as we’ve seen in the past. That could be construed two different ways: either not many are playing well enough to standout, or lots of players are playing well enough to standout but since so many are playing that way none of them actually standout. Anyway, there were four players who looked better than everyone else today; they were: DE Jared Allen (having maybe the best camp of any Vikings player), LB E.J. Henderson (looks better than he’s looked in years), P Chris Kluwe (played very well on Saturday night) and DE D’Aundre Reed.

Reed is a repeat mention in my eye test section of the practice notes and it sounds like he’s a name that’s brought up in coaches meetings as well. Here’s what Frazier had to say about Reed: “Yes, he’s a guy we’re going to keep an eye on and looking forward to seeing how he performs in some of these preseason games. In practice, he’s flashing. We were talking about him in our staff meetings last night so we’re anxious to see how he does against some new competition (in the preseason games).

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