For the next several weeks I will be breaking down the Viking’s roster, evaluating the players and letting you know what to expect from each position. If you have any questions or comments feel free to write me at jwright3030@ gmail.com, follow me on Twitter @SkolJWright or find me on Facebook at Jordan Wright.
By Jordan Wright
This week I will be covering the offensive line. I truly believe offensive line is the most important positional group in football. Sure, quarterbacks get all the headlines and skill positions score all the touchdowns, but none of that would be able to happen without the offensive line. There has been a lot of shuffling this offseason, as the Vikings are trying to figure out the best possible combination of starters to give Adrian Peterson room to run and Teddy Bridgewater time to throw.
Starters: The Vikings are set at four of the five offensive lineman spots with Matt Kalil, John Sullivan, Brandon Fusco and Phil Loadholt, while there is a competition for the last remaining starting spot.
Matt Kalil was drafted number four overall in the 2012 NFL draft. He started as a rookie and earned a pro bowl selection. After his first season, it sure looked like he was going to be the Viking’s starting left tackle for the next decade… then came the injuries. It was injuries that lead to subpar seasons in 2013 and 2014, leading many to believe he will never be able to regain his rookie form. If Kalil can rebound and put his injuries behind him (something that he appeared to be doing the second half of last season), he has the ability to be a great left tackle.
John Sullivan has been the rock of the offensive line for six seasons, after sitting behind Matt Birk his rookie season. John has improved every year, and he is now considered one of the best centers in football. Barring Injury, Sullivan will be starting at center for the Vikings for many years to come.
Brandon Fusco has developed into one of the best offensive guards in football, after being drafted in the sixth round of the 2011 draft. The Vikings believe in him so much, last offseason they signed him to a five year, $25 million dollar deal. Fusco’s 2014 season was cut short due to injury, but he appears to be healthy and ready to contribute. While Fusco has primarily played right guard, the Vikings have been experimenting with moving him to left guard in order to help out Matt Kalil.
Phil Loadholt is a behemoth of a man, standing 6’8” and weighing 345 pounds. He is firmly entrenched as the right tackle, and grades out well as a run blocker but needs to improve his pass protection, especially against smaller, quicker defensive lineman. Loadholt suffered an injury last season in week 12, but he will be ready to go once training camp arrives.
Backups: While four out of five spots are filled along the offensive line, the Vikings staff will be looking at one of these backups to step up and claim the other guard spot.
The Vikings have five linemen on the roster who haven’t played a down in the NFL, including fourth rounder T.J. Clemmings, sixth rounder Tyrus Thompson, seventh rounder Austin Shepherd, Polish born Babatunde and a couple undrafted rookie free agents Tom Farniok and Bobby Vardaro. It will be difficult for any of them to see significant playing time this season, although T.J. Clemmings was projected by many to be a first round pick until an old foot injury was discovered during the combine. If everything checks out medically and Clemmings can learn the nuances of playing guard (he played offensive tackle in college), he could potentially grab the last available starting spot.
The Vikings also have Zac Kerin, Carter Bykowski, David Yankey, Mike Harris and Joe Berger on the roster. David Yankey was drafted in the 2014 draft, and has added some bulk this offseason to help him prepare to play this season. Joe Berger is one of the oldest Vikings on the roster at 33 years old, but he stepped in last year after the rash of injuries to the starters and filled in admirably. Mike Harris is another player who had to step in last season and he was decent. Both Berger and Harris are good veteran players who can play on either side of the line, which makes them valuable.
The Vikings will keep anywhere from seven to nine offensive linemen on the roster this season. Kalil, Fusco, Sullivan and Loadholt are locks, which leaves only three to five spots to be claimed by the remaining eleven linemen. I believe Clemmings is also a lock because the Vikings have invested a high draft pick on him. Out of the remaining players, I see Yankey, Berger, Harris and Tyrus Thompson battling it out for two spots. There is no doubt offensive line will be one of the most interesting position battles to watch this offseason. If Kalil can regain his rookie season form, if Fusco and Loadholt can come back from injury as strong as ever and if one of the rookies grabs the open guard spot, the Vikings can have one of the better offensive lines in the league. That is a lot of ifs