The Vikings return all 5 starters on the offensive line that was ranked 2nd in the NFL in rushing last season. In 2012, under second year offensive line coach Jeff Davidson, the big boys up front took important steps forward in production and consistency. The team saw all 5 guys as a unit start all 16 games, while giving up just 32 sacks compared to 49 the previous year. I would not be surprised to see all 5 guys win the starting jobs again this year and continue to improve as a unit.
Center John Sullivan, a 6th round draft pick in 2008, is the longest standing offensive lineman on the team and has been the leader and anchor in the middle as a starter since 2009. If Sully can stay healthy, he might have a chance to earn a spot in the Pro Bowl before his career is over.
Tackle Phil Loadholt owns the next longest tenure as a Vikings’ lineman. The Mammoth 2009 2nd round pick made headlines this off-season by signing a new 5 year contract. Loadholt is one of the top run blockers in the league and will lock down the right tackle spot again this season.
The left tackle spot belongs to 2012 first round pick Matt Kalil. The former USC star was chosen for the Pro Bowl after debuting as a rookie starter. The Vikings are counting on Kalil to have another Pro Bowl year protecting Ponder’s blind side.
The guard positions might see some token competition at some point from Jeff Baca, but as of right now the week one starters should be Charlie Johnson and 2nd year player Brandon Fusco. If Baca, a 6th round pick, has a great camp he might be able to work his way into some playing time. Baca is a quick footed guy with great technique that started 25 games at guard and 20 games at tackle in his 4 years at UCLA. Coach Frazier was looking to land a swing tackle before the draft; Baca might be the guy to wins that versatile job as the top backup. Backing up Sullivan at center will probably be Joe Berger again this year but C Camden Wentz will try to make the most of his opportunity during training camp.
After being on injured reserve for all of last year, DeMarcus Love will need to bring his “A” game to camp if he wants to make the 53 man roster. The Vikings have plenty of depth on the offensive line with Travis Bond, Tyler Homes, Brandon Keith, Troy Kropog, Kevin Murphy, and Seth Olsen all fighting for jobs. The Vikings have 15 offensive linemen at training camp and will be trimming that list down to 8 or 9 for the final 53 man roster. I think the starting 5 plus Jeff Baca and Joe Berger are locks to make the roster. That only leaves 1 or 2 spots up for grabs. Here are a few of the guys to watch for.
Guard Seth Olsen is a high character guy drafted in the 4th round by the Denver Broncos. He is currently in his second stint with the Vikings after the Indianapolis Colts signed him off the Vikings practice squad in 2011. Olsen has played in 15 games and has 5 starts under his belt. His versatility and experience gives him a leg up. Olsen has never played center in a game before but he was taking second team reps in mini camp as Sullivan recovers from minor knee surgery. Christian Ballard and Olsen were teammates at Iowa in 07 and 08. They have lined up against each other many times and the competition according to Ballard is pretty good.
Guard Travis Bond, the 7th round pick from North Carolina is a big boy at 6’6’ 329 pounds. Vikings.com has him listed as a biscuit under 330 which is lean and mean compared to his 375 pounds he weigh in 2011. His nick name is “Tree Top”. Bond is quick for his size and can over power linebackers in his path. He has an attitude and will play to the whistle. Bond is raw and a bit of a project so he might need a year on the practice squad to develop.
Tackle Kevin Murphy is a 6’7’ 295 pound undrafted lineman that spent his rookie year on the Vikings practice squad in 2012. Murphy started all 20 games his final two seasons at Harvard. Nfldraftscout.com had Murphy ranked as the #27th tackle in the 2013 draft. If the Vikings like his development and work ethic, this could be the year he makes a 53 man roster in the NFL. Multiple teams had interest in signing Murphy off waivers in 2012.
Tackle Troy Kropog is 6’6 308 and was selected by the Tennessee Titans in the 4th round of the 2009 draft. Kropog is a versatile zone blocker that can play inside or outside. Kropog was promoted to the Vikings 53 man active roster when Percy Harvin was placed on injured reserve.
Tackle Brandon Keith was a 7th round pick of the Arizona Cardinals in 2008. He is 6’5’ 345 pound and was clocked running a blazing 4.98 at his pro day. Keith played in 24 games with 18 starts over his 4 year career with the Cardinals. He struggled as a starting right tackle due to injuries and a lack of versatility. Keith did not play in 2012.
The position battles along the offensive line will not be the main story lines in Mankato this year… and you won’t hear Adrian Peterson or Christian Ponder complaining about that.