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 | 97 Comments »
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.
Tags: Brandon Fusco, Charlie Johnson, Chris DeGeare, Jeff Davidson, Joe Berger, John Sullivan, Pat Brown, Phil Loadholt
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Since All- Pro G Steve Hutchinson signed with the Vikings in 2006, he’s made a significant impact on the team’s running game and overall success.
But the football field is not the only place Hutchinson can make a difference.
Hutchinson has been one of the team’s most-active members in community outreach, and he comes up especially big during the Holiday season. Over the past couple of years, Hutchinson and his wife, Landyn, have hosted an early Thanksgiving meal at the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital.
The Thanksgiving meals were so successful and impactful that the Hutchinson’s decided to have a Holiday Party every year, too.
Later today at the Children’s Hospital, Steve and Landyn will host their Holiday Party for young patients and their families – roughly 100 people.
The visit will take place in the Bridges Cafeteria and he Hutchinsons have purchased gifts for every young patient staying in the hospital.
A few of Hutchinson’s teammates – OT Pat Brown, DE Fred Evans and C John Sullivan – will be joining the Hutchinsons this afternoon.
Tags: Fred Evans, John Sullivan, Pat Brown, Steve Hutchinson
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | No Comments »