Thursday, May 5, 2016

brandon fusco

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Out with the old, in with the new

Vikings' starting offensive line
Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Competition is the name of the game for the Minnesota Vikings, who completely revamped the look of their offensive line this offseason. Last year’s unit, which featured rookie right tackle T.J. Clemmings and reserve center Joe Berger, was a ramshackle bunch of pieces playing out of position.

Mike Harris, traditionally a tackle, was thrust into the lineup as a right guard. Brandon Fusco, the right guard of old, was forced to move to the left side of the line. And Clemmings, no matter how much of a “steal” he was in the draft, clearly wasn’t ready to take the reigns from an injured Phil Loadholt.

Heading into 2016, a pivotal year for the Vikings, general manager Rick Spielman took measures to prevent another disaster up front. His free agent signings — an re-signings — signal an emphasis on protecting third-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and solidifying one of the team’s weakest links from 2015:

  • Re-structuring right tackle Phil Loadholt and retaining left tackle Matt Kalil — consistency and continuity at the tackle position can’t hurt, right?
  • Re-signing right guard Mike Harris, who is expected to compete with Brandon Fusco for starting duties next season
  • Signing free agent left guard Alex Boone, who will step in immediately next to Matt Kalil
  • Bringing in free agent right tackle Andre Smith for a visit — the former Cincinnati Bengal is reportedly deciding between Arizona and Minnesota for his next contract

With all of these changes, moves, and potential signings, Spielman is fostering a competitive environment in Minnesota. Presumed starters today may end up on the bench tomorrow; it’s a guessing game at this point of the offseason. And that’s why I asked the VT team to make their best guess and predict the Vikings’ starting offensive line come Week 1. Who will rise and solidify a spot as one of the top-five?

It’s Week 1 of the 2016 regular season. Who is starting on the offensive line for the Minnesota Vikings?

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Andre Smith leaves Minnesota
Image courtesy of Wikimedia

The Minnesota Vikings are in the hunt for a possible starting right tackle, pulling out all the stops to lure free agents to Winter Park. A popular tactic is to take potential Vikings to Manny’s Steakhouse, a move the front office used last night when they wined and dined free agent right tackle Andre Smith at the upscale restaurant.

Despite the Prime beef and today’s scheduled tour of US Bank Stadium, Smith left Minnesota without a deal in place. According to Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press, his looming decision “is between the Vikings and the Cardinals,” and right now, it’s an “even” race between the up-and-coming NFC teams.

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Vikings Sign Alex Boone

After missing out on George Iloka, who re-signed with the Bengals, the Vikings have made their first free agent acquisition of the offseason. According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, the Minnesota Vikings have reached an agreement with free agent guard Alex Boone.

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Vikings are interested in Cody Whitehair
Image courtesy of Vikings.com

The Dallas Cowboys selected Zack Martin with the 16th-overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, and many debated whether the Notre Dame tackle was worthy of a first round selection. Jerry Jones opted for the safe choice, passing on Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel for a chance to bolster what was then the NFL’s best offensive line.

“Is Martin as a guard worthy of a mid-first round pick? That’s debatable,” wrote Sports Illustrated’s Doug Farrar. Other media members shared Farrar’s sentiment, and all were quickly proven wrong. Martin finished his rookie season as the NFL’s fourth-best run-blocking guard, per Pro Football Focus, and continued his elite play in 2015. The right guard position is a non-need for the Cowboys, and it will be for years to come because of Martin. This year’s draft class is a bit top-heavy with interior offensive line prospects, putting the Minnesota Vikings in a similar position as Dallas two years ago.

Widely considered the top guard in the class, Kansas State’s Cody Whitehair is drawing plenty of interest from NFL teams, one of those being the Vikings. According to reports from ESPN 1500’s Andrew Krammer, general manager Rick Spielman and staff are pouring their time into Whitehair:

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Minnesota Vikings have hired Brent Salazar
Image courtesy of Vikings.com

The rash of pectoral injuries may finally be over in Winter Park. As announced on the Minnesota Vikings’ official website, the team has named Brent Salazar its Strength and Conditioning coach. Salazar spent the previous nine years (2007-2015) with the Kansas City Chiefs, where he was a strength and conditioning assistant.

The announcement comes a little less than a month after the Vikings’ decision to part ways with Evan Marcus, who held the same position from 2014 to 2015. Under Marcus, the Vikings moved to a free weight program in the 2014 offseason that eliminated the use of certain machines. His shift in philosophy coincided with setbacks to a number of players. Josh Robinson, Brian Robison, Jerick McKinnon, Brandon Fusco, and Phil Loadholt all fell victim to weight room-related injuries.

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