Over the next five days on the vikings.com 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.”
Tags: Jeff Davidson
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