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Kyle Rudolph at Cowboys 11/3/13
Photo provided courtesy of Vikings.com

The hits just keep on coming. Kyle Rudolph, who was injured on a 31-yard touchdown pass from Christian Ponder in the third quarter of yesterday’s game against the Cowboys, could be out for a month with a fractured foot.

“I think the guy just fell on his foot when he was tackling him,” Frazier said. “It’s a very significant injury for him and for our team. That gives some other guys a chance to step up. Chase Ford, who played in the ballgame and did a good job for us, he’ll play. John Carlson will get more reps now.”

Though the amount Rudolph has been utilized this season has left something to be desired amongst many Vikings fans hoping for a big year, the loss of one of Ponder’s favorite redzone targets still hurts. As Frazier stated above, this will mean that John Carlson, the Vikings $25 million back-up tight end, will get more playing time.

Phil Loadholt, who suffered a concussion Sunday, did not practice today.

Other Vikings players who did not practice and are now dealing with injuries include: Fred Evans, Jamarca Sanford, Xavier Rhodes, Letroy Guion, Rhett Ellison and Charlie Johnson.

 

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.

[Note:  Want to see a list of every player featured in our “Draft Target” segment?  Click here to visit the Offseason Tracker where there will be a list of all these players.  Check back often as there are plenty more to come!]

After losing Geoff Schwartz, and even though they signed Seth Olsen, the Vikings would still benefit from finding a high quality swing guard.  The preference would surely be to find a guy that could not only be a quality backup to numerous positions on the line, but a guy that might push Brandon Fusco and Charlie Johnson for a starting position.

One possibility, Kyle Long out of Oregon, comes with an interesting past that includes an interesting path to the NFL.  He comes from a football family, being the son of Howie Long and the brother of Chris Long, but it originally looked like Kyle’s future was going to be in baseball.  After being drafted by the Chicago White Sox coming out of high school, Long decided to accept a scholarship at Florida State.  That didn’t go too well, and only lasted one semester, as Long couldn’t make his grades and ended up getting nabbed for a DUI.  He went home and eventually enrolled at Saddleback Junior College where he played on the defensive line with only mild success.  He moved to offensive line in his second season at Saddleback and really seemed to find his niche.

After entertaining a number of bigger school suitors, Long signed on with the Oregon program and they kept him on the offensive line, which saw him instantly become one of the most athletic linemen in football.  Despite being so raw to the position, Oregon started Long in 10 of their 12 games last season, and he made a good impression.

Long’s career path meant that he had to apply for a sixth year of eligibility, but he was denied and had little choice but to enter the 2013 Draft pool, and he presents an interesting case for teams to evaluate.

Long is 6′ 6″ and 313 pounds.  He ran the third fastest forty yard dash (4.94) of all the offensive linemen at the Scouting Combine.  That quickness and athleticism shows up on tape, too, as he is a very proficient pulling guard and seems to find himself making blocks at the second level more often than most guards do.  He has an intensity to his game, like his brother does for the Rams, that cannot be taught and will certainly be attractive to every NFL team.  He plays hard through the whistle on every snap.

You can tell that Long has only played the offensive line for a short amount of time.  He sometimes has mental lapses and can freeze his feet on occasion  and he also has a tendency to play too upright without enough flexibility, which allows defenders to get him off balance.  He could stand to add some strength and bulk to his frame, but he has a powerful initial burst and uses his 11″ hands to deliver some nasty punches.

I would say that Long has first round athleticism, Day Two game tape, but question marks that could keep him from being drafted until the third round or later.  His rerouted college career not only brings up character concerns, but it also mans he will already turn 25 years old during the 2013 season, and he enters the NFL with a lack of experience.

On the other hand, he hasn’t been in trouble for a number of years, and if he can combine some added bulk while refining his skills and flexibility, he could end up being one of the more gifted guards in the NFL for years to come.  His father and brother have stated that he’s the best athlete in the family, which is saying something, and he certainly passes the eye test of an NFL offensive lineman.

For the Vikings, Long might be a good fit, as his athleticism and dominance in the run game are a combination they seem to seek out.  Meanwhile, they don’t seem overly concerned with either Fusco or Johnson as starting options, and Long wouldn’t have to be forced into action right away if he isn’t ready.  Although, he might provide serious competition for a starting job sooner rather than later if the work ethic he displayed on Saturdays has been a part of his pre-Draft preparation.

Long could be a serious consideration with the 22nd pick in the second round, and would be hard to resist if he is still available when they are on the clock in the third round.  Although, it might be telling if Long’s former coach, Chip Kelly of the Eagles, passes on him enough times to let him fall this far.

 

Left guard Charlie Johnson seemed a likely candidate to be asked about a pay cut in 2013 and it turns out he already has been, and agreed to a new deal that gives the Vikings half a million more in cap room.

According to 1500 ESPN, his new deal increases his roster bonus from $500,000 to $750,000, but drops his base salary from $2.95 million to $2.45 million.  The new deal also erased $250,000 worth of playing time incentives.

His 2013 cap hit went from $4.35 million to $3.85 million, giving the Vikings some much needed room.

Prior to striking deals with quarterback Matt Cassel and wide out Greg Jennings late last week the Vikings were thought to have about $13.8 million in cap space.  After their deals are approved by the league office we should be able to learn more about what their adjusted cap numbers look like.

Armed with 11 draft picks, some speculation has included Johnson getting released outright if the Vikings find a promising young rookie, and nothing about this new deal should make it any less possible.

It is also possible, still, that other high priced veterans are approached about restructuring their contracts.

Rick Spielman and the Minnesota Vikings has blown up the depth chart when it comes to wide receiver by releasing Michael Jenkins, letting Devin Aromashodu hit free agency, and trading Percy Harvin to Seattle.  They have allowed two of their starting linebackers, Erin Henderson and Jasper Brinkley, explore free agency.  They changed the landscape of the secondary by releasing feisty veteran Antoine Winfield.

They are also rumored to be pursuing a new backup quarterback.

One thing that is interesting, however, is that the team has opted to maintain a great deal of continuity on both the offensive line and defensive line.  Thus far, anyways.

By retaining right tackle Phil Loadholt , backup Troy Kropog, and backup center Joe Berger the Vikings have kept intact their offensive line, with the lone exception being the currently unsigned backup guard Geoff Schwartz.  Spielman declared some time ago that continuity was of value to him on the offensive line and that philosophy shows with how today has gone.  A lack of reported interest in any free agent linemen, combined with the fact that Charlie Johnson is still on the roster, shows that the Vikings don’t appear poised to make any sweeping changes in this area.

The defensive line also had potential for movement, especially in light of the shrewd move to release Winfield, as there are a number of high paid players that are on the wrong side of thirty.  Jared Allen is in the last year of his contract and Kevin Williams is not playing at the level his current salary would typically warrant.  Still, there hasn’t even been a whisper that something could be cooking in this area, and as of right now it looks like the front four will remain unchanged.

Mind you, we aren’t even half of a day into free agency and there is still potential for movement, but it is an interesting note that nothing in this area of the roster seemed to be on the checklist for Day One of free agency.

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