Few position groups will be as heavily scrutinized early this season more than the offensive line. The Vikings have been one of the NFL’s best rushing teams over the past several seasons, but the combination of a need for improvement in pass protection and multiple new starters in the group will have many keeping close tabs on the men up front.
The offensive line is the subject of today’s Roster Rundown…
The Vikings will bring 15 offensive linemen with them to training camp, probably a standard number in League circles. While we can be fairly certain on four of the five starters heading into training camp, there will still be plenty of competition up and down the line in both the starting lineup and especially for the reserve spots.
John Sullivan is solid at center and has developed into one of the best five or so players at his position in the entire League. Sullivan began his career as Matt Birk’s understudy and eventually rose to starter status, where he snapped to Brett Favre in his first season as the starter and has progressed nicely ever since. There are two other players listed as centers on the Vikings roster who will compete for a backup role behind Sullivan – Joe Berger and Quentin Saulsberry. Berger is a returning veteran with seven seasons of experience and Saulsberry is an undrafted college free agent out of Mississippi State.
The Vikings should be set at both OT positions as well. Phil Loadholt returns at RT and should be sufficiently motivated in a contract year. Fans have grown tired of his penalties and occasional pass protection letdown, but my sense is Loadholt is sitting on a nice season. At LT the Vikings of course have 1st-round pick Matt Kalil. Sullivan has described Kalil as a “freak” athletically. Other OTs listed on the Vikings roster are: Pat Brown, Levi Horn, DeMarcus Love, Geoff Schwartz and Darrion Weems. Brown and Love are returning from last year’s team, Schwartz was a free agent pickup for the Vikings this offseason and could compete for the starting RG spot, and both Horn and Weems are undrafted college free agents.
The addition of Kalil at LT allows the Vikings to move Charlie Johnson over to LG, perhaps his more natural position. Johnson has the athleticism to play OT, but Vikings GM Rick Spielman explained to me earlier this offseason that his arm length is not ideal for the position. Moving him inside to LG will put Johnson is a better position to succeed, and it will allow Johnson to help Kalil transition to the NFL game. The RG position is up for grabs at this point. I expect Brandon Fusco to open camp as the starter, but both Schwartz and Chris DeGeare should have their sights set on winning the job as well. The two other OGs listed on the Vikings roster are Tyler Holmes and Austin Pasztor, a pair of undrafted college free agents.
A lot of names to go over there, but it just means more competition for the position group as a whole. The top three aspects of the offensive line I’ll be watching at training camp are…
– Who looks the best at RG? Fusco has the early edge based on the offseason program, but both DeGeare and Schwartz are in the mix as well.
– How does Kalil adjust to the NFL? Going against Jared Allen every day will help Kalil a ton if the 1st-round pick can strike a balance between taking his medicine from Allen and others on defense while also establishing himself as Ponder’s blindside protector.
– Does Loadholt take a big step forward this year? He was solid as a rookie in 2009 when he helped the club go 12-4 and play in the NFC title game, but since then he’s produced mixed results. Loadholt is one of my favorite guys on the team and I know he takes pride in his game, so I expect him to take a big step forward in his second year working with well-respected OL coach Jeff Davidson.
Tags: Austin Pasztor, Brandon Fusco, Charlie Johnson, Chris DeGeare, Darrion Weems, Demarcus Love, Geoff Schwartz, Joe Berger, John Sullivan, Levi Horn, Matt Kalil, Pat Brown, Phil Loadholt, Quentin Saulsberry, Roster Rundown, Tyler Holmes
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 90 Comments »
Earlier this offseason we identified Everson Griffen as one of eight Vikings poised for a breakout season in 2012. As the offseason progressed, it became increasingly clear that we weren’t alone in being excited about Griffen’s NFL future.
Few players this offseason have been on the mind of Vikings fans more than Griffen. The consensus among fans is that Griffen is too talented to not be on the field, and there are a growing number of fans who want to see Griffen make the transition from DE to LB. Whether Griffen is asked to make that switch or not remains to be seen. What is clear, though, is that Griffen is viewed by most as a player on the rise.
The latest illustration of this point comes from Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders (via ESPN Insider). Schatz has pointed to Griffen as one of the NFL’s top 25 prospects under the age of 25. In his study, Schatz analyzed a pool of players with the following criteria: drafted in the 3rd round or later; entered the League between 2009 and 2011; fewer than 5 career games started; still on their rookie contract; and age 26 or younger in 2012.
Of the top 25 players who fit into each of those categories, Schatz ranked Griffen as the 3rd best, behind only Seattle WR Doug Baldwin and New Orleans DE/LB Martez Wilson. Schatz says this of Griffen: “He’s supremely talented, with an explosive burst off the edge and good inside quickness. He provides coverage almost as readily as pass-rushing prowess, which is very important for a team that likes to drop defensive ends into coverage as often as Minnesota does. The Vikings are trying to figure out ways to get Griffen on the field more often, and may use him as a linebacker in some packages next season.”
That analysis of Griffen is a common one among Vikings fans, so we can add Schatz to the growing number of football followers who view Griffen as a talent on the rise.
Tags: Everson Griffen
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 18 Comments »