Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Vikings Bookends Need To Stay Off The Shelf

Under head coach Mike Zimmer, the Minnesota Vikings have quietly become one of the best NFL teams on paper. In reality, the defense is legitimate. Last season the Vikings ranked third in the NFL in total defense.

Today, three of the team’s best defenders are the beneficiaries of contract extensions, making them Vikings for life. Furthermore, the Vikings offense, which sputtered last season, now has the personnel to establish a refreshing new identity, post Adrian Peterson.

So, what could keep this ‘great’ team from reaching the playoffs and making a run at Super Bowl 52 in their home state? The Vikings’ Achilles heel…the offensive line.

Sports Illustrated contributor Peter King said the 2016 Vikings offensive line play was the worst he’s ever seen in his 34 years covering football. The team’s rushing attack was the last in the NFL, the Vikings had the league’s lowest average depth of target, and Sam Bradford was sacked a career-high 38 times.

As King stated, if the team cannot protect the signal caller, it doesn’t matter if Bradford, Teddy Bridgewater, or a combo of Case Keenum and Taylor Heinicke is starting at quarterback.

This offseason, in an effort to improve the offensive line, Vikings general manager Rick Spielman and his staff made multiple moves and spent lots of money to acquire new players.

OFFSEASON ADDITIONS

DEPTH CHART via Vikings.com

LT – Riley Reiff, Rashod Hill, Aviante Collins

LGAlex Boone, Jeremiah Sirles, Austin Shepherd, Freddie Tagaloa

CNick Easton, Pat Elflein, Zac Kerin

RGJoe Berger, T.J. Clemmings, Danny Isidora

RT – Mike Remmers, Willie Beavers, Reid Fragel

CURRENT SITUATION

The offensive line was overhauled. Only one player (Boone) is starting at the same position (left guard) as last year. After the offseason transactions, the team appears to have bolstered the interior of the line and moderately upgraded the tackle position. The depth at tackle, however, is still dangerously thin.

To make things more concerning, left tackle Riley Reiff was out most of training camp nursing a back injury. He returned to practice Monday after being out since July 27th. Coach Zimmer said the injury isn’t serious.

His backup, Rashod Hill, went down with a hold-your-breath kind of injury in Saturday night’s scrimmage. He appears to fine now, as well. However, if Reiff’s back injury lingers, Hill, a second-year player signed off the Jacksonville Jaguars practice squad last season, would take his place as the starter.

With the training camp injury scares and a considerable drop-off in talent behind the starters, signing a capable offense tackle to backup Reiff and Remmers would provide a stress-relieving exhale when it comes to tackle depth. Unfortunately for the Vikings, it’s easier said than done.

OPTIONS

Here are the best offensive tackle options still available in free agency, according to NFLTradeRumors.com:

Michael Oher OT CAR 31
Pearce Slater OT CAR 23
Mike Adams OT CHI 27
Darryl Baldwin OT DAL 25
Levon Myers OT DAL 23
Pierce Burton OT DET 26
Dimitric Camiel OT HOU 23
Colin Kelly OT JAX 27
King Dunlap OT LAC 31 Retired
Mason Zandi OT LAC 23
Kwayde Miller OT LAR 23
Jake Long OT MIN 32 Retired
Nick Fett OT MIN 23
Sebastian Vollmer OT NE 33 Retired
Will Beatty OT NYG 32
Ryan Clady OT NYJ 30 Retired
Tyler Johnstone OT SD 24
Gosder Cherilus OT TB 33 Retired
Houston Bates OT WAS 26

 

OTHER OPTIONS:
  • Austin Pasztor (Age 26 — 6’7,” 305 pounds): Like Remmers, Pasztor was once a Viking early in his career. He was signed by Minnesota in 2012 as an undrafted free agent. He played college football at Virginia. Despite starting 15 games at right tackle last season for the Cleveland Browns, it was his first season at the position. Pasztor fits better at guard and struggles in pass protection; not exactly traits the Vikings are looking for in a swing tackle.
  • Michael Oher (Age 31 — 6’4,” 315 pounds): Oher is the only intriguing option on this list. The reason he’s a free agent is because he failed a physical with the Carolina Panthers due to a concussion. He also had an altercation with an Uber driver this offseason. Despite his issues, he has experience playing both tackle positions, and he won a Super Bowl with Baltimore in 2013.

BORMAN BREAKDOWN

While highly unlikely, the Vikings would be the team to experience bad luck, again, when it comes to offensive line injuries. Five players lined up at left tackle for the Vikings last season. Adding another veteran body that can be a clear upgrade to Hill and/or Beavers would be ideal, but at this point it’s far-fetched.

There’s not much to like about the current crop of free agents, hence them being free agents. If the team liked one of these players they would have brought him to training camp.

There will only be one roster reduction this preseason, from 90 to 53 players. When teams trim their rosters, the Vikings could sign an available tackle that improves their depth. However, because of the limited amount of talented NFL tackles, teams will keep the good ones, so the pickings will be slim. Teams must have their 53-man rosters set by September 2nd.

The Vikings could explore trading a receiver like Jarius Wright or a veteran defensive linemen like Shamar Stephen for an offensive tackle with some upside or experience. Due to limited trade targets, this scenario is unlikely.

The best option for the Vikings is to stand pat with the players they have, monitor the waiver wire, and hope for a healthy season from the revamped offensive line.

4 COMMENTS

    • The fans and the media may feel uncomfortable with the OT depth, but I’ve yet to see any indication that the Vikings share that feeling as they signed no free agents at the positions besides the new starters and spent no draft picks at OT (granted, it wasn’t a strong class).

      I’d love to see someone name off the top of their head more than one or two of the Vikings’ back-up offensive tackles over the last 20 years. The only one I can immediately call to mind was former Eagle starter and four-position swing guard and tackle, Artis Hicks. Going into the year with guys with the level of experience of Rashod Hill, Jeremiah Sirles and T.J. Clemmings is neither unusual nor particularly alarming. Hill impressed in his one game last year, Sirles was more than adequate when he first replaced Andre Smith last season before trailing off – as I’ve argued elsewhere in detail, probably more due to coaching errors than a lack of usable talent – and, as bad as he’s been, Clemmings has almost two years of starting experience outside and the athletic gifts to stay out there. Personally, I would have left Clemmings at tackle and not changed his position for the third time in three years, but coaches can panic and/or arrogant about coaching someone up just like anyone else.

      I’m actually not awfully worried if Remmers goes down with an injury, because I think Sirles can replace him with a minimal drop-off in play, and Clemmings might be able to do the same. Remmers, after all, is no All-Pro. He’s Tim Irwin, a mauler in the run game but someone who can’t handle elite pass rushers like a Von Miller or, back in the day, Mark Gastineau. I’m more concerned about the drop-off from Reiff to Hill, and really don’t see a viable third left tackle on the roster, but how many teams have three left tackles they’d be comfortable starting a game on their 53-man rosters? On the other hand, I wouldn’t lose my water if Sirles, Boone or even Clemmings had to finish a game at LT. I’d leave the panicking for figuring out who the hell would start the next week.

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  1. Don’t get me wrong, I WANT them to sign a vet as backup. In fact, that’s what this article was originally going to suggest. But, after I checked out the depth charts of all the NFL teams, there’s not many upgrades out there. Quality tackles are hard to come by. That’s why I feel like they’ll stick with the current personnel, unless they get lucky and land one after the roster cut

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    • If Reiff, Remmers, Hill, Sirles and Clemmings are all healthy as of September 2 and have not looked truly awful in the pre-season, I don’t see why they would or should sign a veteran back-up, unless a quality starter was cut for some contract reason on other.

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