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An Economical, Long-Term Plan For The Offensive Line

Posted by Mike Wobschall on March 13, 2012 – 6:06 am

Accustomed to watching a top tier running game since 2007 and tired of watching their brand-new franchise QB run for his life, Vikings fans are anxious to see the team make moves to improve the offensive line. But even with USC LT Matt Kalil expected to be the Vikings 1st-round pick next month, Vikings fans want more.

And it’s understandable. Christian Ponder was sacked 30 times in just 11 games, plus the Vikings released RG Anthony Herrera and LG Steve Hutchinson this past weekend, opening up a pair of vacancies in the starting lineup.

As a result, Ben Grubbs and Carl Nicks – a pair of OGs who have 3 Pro Bowls and 2 All-Pro selections between them – are in high demand among Vikings fans. Both are scheduled to become free agents at 3:00 p.m. CT today, and both play positions of need for the Vikings.

While both players would serve as upgrades at their position, don’t expect the Vikings to enter the bidding for their services. The Vikings do have a considerable amount of salary cap space, but signing Nicks would eat much of it up and the Vikings have more than just one player on their wish list; Grubbs will likely command an expensive salary as well. With other needs on the roster, the Vikings would be better-served, in my view, to use their free agency money on other positions, such as CB or WR.

A big part of my opinion on the matter is the plan I’d like to see the Vikings put into place this offseason to improve the offensive line. No, there may not be high-priced and Pro Bowl-caliber free agent signings on the horizon, but I still foresee the Vikings solving their offensive line woes. And I see them solving it by going young. Hear me out…

– Take Kalil in the 1st round, which will provide a starting LT and yield a replacement for Hutchinson at LG with Charlie Johnson sliding over. He will play better and will feel more comfortable at LG.
— John Sullivan has emerged as a Top 5-7 center in the NFL according to those who know more about it than me, and the Vikings locked him up to a contract extension last season. He becomes the leader of this young group, especially with Hutchinson no longer in the picture.
— At RG the Vikings can lean on veteran Joe Berger and 2nd-year player Brandon Fusco. I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews from coaches and players about Fusco’s progress last year and his prospects for the future.
— To round out the line, Loadholt will be back as the starting RT. He had a down year in 2011 and he’ll be the first to acknowledge that. But 2012 is a contract year for him, he’s been around Winter Park for much of the offseason, and OL coach Jeff Davidson is determined to help him improve. I like that situation.
— Lastly, other youngsters such as Chris DeGeare and Pat Brown can compete for playing time along the line should one of the proposed 5 starters falter or suffer an injury.

Are there questions here? Certainly. And there’s no guarantee my proposed solution will work. But for this Vikings team, coming off a 3-13 record with several holes to fill in the starting lineup – particularly the wide receiver position to help Ponder – I believe a young and affordable offensive line with some upside is a better group than a veteran, expensive collection of veterans who are being paid more for past production than they are for expectation.

Nicks and Grubbs are names most fans recognize, and I understand why Vikings fans demand the team pursue them. But you can’t have All-Pros at every position, or at least you can’t sign All-Pros in free agency at every position. I have confidence in the plan I laid out above, and more importantly I have confidence in the young players on the roster and the experience and tutelage Davidson can bring to the meeting room.

What do you say, Vikings fans? Are you okay with the team going young on the offensive line so they can pursue more talented players at other important positions? Let us know what you think by leaving your thoughts in the comments section below this entry.


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Several Vikings Step Up In Win Over Washington

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 26, 2011 – 2:27 pm

The Vikings earned a tough 33-26 road victory over the Washington Redskins on Saturday, and there was nothing conventional about how the game unfolded. Minnesota jumped out to 10-0 lead, trailed 13-10 early in the 3rd quarter, watched both Adrian Peterson and Christian Ponder leave the game due to injury, and then outscored Washington 23-13 the rest of the way to notch the win.

To be on the road and face that much adversity – Peterson left with a severe knee injury and Ponder suffered a concussion – but still come out with a win is a testament to the Vikings depth and refusal to quit on the season.

Peterson and Ponder were both forced out of the game early in the 3rd quarter. Backups Toby Gerhart and Joe Webb stepped right in and were productive for the rest of the game. Gerhart finished with 109 yards on 11 carries, the first 100-yard game of his career, and Webb was 4 of 5 for 84 yards and 2 TDs, and he also added 5 carries for 34 yards and 1 TD.

But it was more than just Gerhart and Webb who stepped up on Saturday. Seven-year veteran Joe Berger started at LG in place of Steve Hutchinson, rookie interior OL Brandon Fusco replaced Anthony Herrera at RG after Herrera left with an injury, rookie S Mistral Raymond grabbed an INT and ended a big-time drought for the Vikings defense, and Brian Robison forced and recovered a fumble off of Rex Grossman.

There are more examples of guys who stepped up in the victory, but you get the picture. And Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier was clearly pleased with the way his team played, from the top of the roster all the way to the bottom.

“As I mentioned earlier, just a good overall effort by our football team to go on the road and get a win against a Redskins team that had just come off a big win against the Giants the week before,” Frazier said during his customary day-after-the-game press conference. “And to handle some of that adversity that occurred during that game, to see the number of players who stepped up like they did, whether it be Toby Gerhart, Joe (Webb) coming into the game when Christian (Ponder) was injured, some of our defensive guys just stepping up, Mistral Raymond coming back and getting an interception for us, the big caused fumble by Brian Robison as well.

“A lot of good things in that football game. A lot of guys contributed to that win on Saturday, which really should be a spring board for us as we prepare for this ball game against Chicago.”


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Asher Allen, Hutchinson Ruled Out; All Others Probable

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 23, 2011 – 11:54 am

The Vikings on Friday ruled CB Asher Allen (concussion/shoulder) and LG Steve Hutchinson out for Sunday’s game against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field. Both players sustained their concussions last week against the Saints and neither player was able to participate in practice this week.

RG Anthony Herrera (knee), S Jarrad Page (hamstring), DT Kevin Williams (knee) and LB Erin Henderson (illness) were all full participants in practice on Friday and are all listed as probable.

Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said earlier in the week that Joe Berger would start if Hutchinson was unable to play. It’s expected that rookie interior lineman Brandon Fusco could also see some action with Hutchinson unavailable.


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Berger, Fusco Will See Action If Hutchinson Is Unable To Play

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 22, 2011 – 3:31 pm

Vikings LG Steve Hutchinson was forced out of last week’s game against the Saints after suffering a laceration to his face. As it turns out, Hutchinson also suffered a concussion in the game. Because of those injuries, Hutchinson has been unable to participate in practice on Wednesday and Thursday.

If Hutchinson is unable to play in Saturday’s game at Washington, Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said that 7-year veteran Joe Berger would get the start and also that rookie Brandon Fusco might see some playing time as well.

Should Berger get the start, it will not be the first time he sees the field for the Vikings. Berger filled in for Anthony Herrera for 5 games from Week 7 to Week 12 when the starting RG was dealing with a knee injury. Berger’s ability to provide depth at both LG and RG is precisely the reason the Vikings added him to the roster earlier in the season.

“He did well,” Frazier said of Berger’s time filling in for Herrera. “We felt like he is a guy who is more than capable of playing the guard position and playing center as well. When he was in there he did a fine job so we’re not stressed. We’d like to have Steve for sure, but Joe showed that he can get the job done.”

As for Fusco, he’s been active for just one game this season. The 6th-round pick is listed as a center, but he, too, has position flexibility. Frazier said the team has given consideration to rolling him into the game as well.

“We talked about that, just to be able to see him move around and just see how he does,” Frazier said. “We’re going to see how the game is going and maybe get that done.”

 Even at 2-12, the Vikings primary goal is to win the game. Vikings players and coaches continue to work hard during the week to be in a position to win on game day. But it also isn’t a bad idea to get a better look at players such as Fusco to see if they have the potential to a part of the team’s long-term plans.


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A Look At First 3 Vikings Selections In 6th Round

Posted by Mike Wobschall on April 30, 2011 – 1:54 pm

The Vikings entered the 6th round of the 2011 NFL Draft with 4 picks – the 3rd, 5th and 7th choices in the round and then the 35th pick in the round (compensatory selection). Instead of separate blog entries for each pick, we’ll package the first 3 together and then address the final 6th round pick later.

– With the 3rd pick of the 6th round (#168 overall), the Vikings chose OT Demarcus Love. He played college football at Arkansas and stands 6-4, 315 pounds. Love played LT the past 2 seasons but also played strong-side G before switching to the outside. That kind of versatility will serve him well with the Vikings.

S Mistral Raymond was the Vikings selection with the 5th pick of the 6th round (#170 overall). Raymond played at South Florida and stands at 6-1, 191 pounds.

– The Vikings selected C Brandon Fusco with the 7th pick of the 6th round (#172 overall). He played college football at the Slippery Rock, which is a Division II school. Fusco was the Gene Upshaw Lineman of the Year (given to top offensive lineman in Division II) and was also a 2-time team captain. According to his scouting report on NFL.com, he has the versatility to play either guard or center.

For some extra reading material, here are blurbs from Love’s and Fusco’s scouting reports:

Demarcus Love
Love is an experienced offensive lineman with great size and a lot of starts under his belt at a variety of spots up front. Can be a road-grading, in-line run blocker who can blow defenders off the ball, but must improve his awareness while playing in space. In pass protection, he can have a tough time with speed rushers but does a nice job dealing with blitzers and creative defensive line play. A versatile prospect with plus size and good intangibles, Love could be selected as high as the second round in April.

 Brandon Fusco
Fusco has the toughness and size to make it in the league as a reserve guard or center but lacks the athleticisms necessary to become a starter. Will face a big jump in competition level coming from Division II but was not intimidated at the Senior Bowl. Can anchor in pass protection but needs to get set quicker and doesn’t have the feet to move and slide laterally. Will get some push off the ball when run blocking but has a tendency to play too high and is not productive out in space. Fusco’s build, motor, and attitude could make him a late-round pick.


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