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 | 87 Comments »
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:
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.
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.
Tags: 2011 NFL Draft, Brandon Fusco, Demarcus Love, Mistral Raymond
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 18 Comments »