Roster Evaluation: C/G Joe Berger with a Jeff Baca twist
Joe Berger has been a veteran presence on the Minnesota Vikings offensive line for 3 seasons. He joined the Vikings in week 2 of the 2011 season after originally being selected by the Carolina Panthers in the 6th round of the 2005 NFL draft. He has appeared in 83 regular season games with 29 starts in his 10 year career with Carolina, Dallas, Miami and Minnesota.
Berger has been a solid reserve contributor for the Vikings playing in 45 games and starting 9 times. Berger is a versatile player who can contribute on special teams and has starting experience at center and both guard positions.
In 2013 Berger saw action in all 16 games with starts against Washington in week 10 and Philadelphia in week 15.
Joe Berger just signed a one year deal in March for $920,000. His cap hit is only $635,000 so from a dollars-and-cents stand point he is probably not in any danger of being cut. Berger’s performance is also at a satisfactory enough level to safely project him onto the 53 man roster again this season. The only question is his age. Berger celebrates his 32nd birthday on May 25th… wait, that’s today.
Happy Birthday Joe!
The Vikings are trying to get younger and Joe just keeps getting older. The only 2 players on the Vikings’ roster older than Joe are Cullen Loeffler 33, and Matt Cassell 32.
Joe Berger is well built at 6’5 305 pounds with very good technique in pass protection. He is solid on his feet and uses his hands well. The Vikings threw the ball 27 times versus the Redskins and Berger (playing left guard) didn’t get beat or have a single penalty thrown against him. Berger has nimble feet and did a good job of engaging and sustaining his blocks.
In the clip below you will notice Berger, playing the left guard position, has no trouble getting under #72 Stephen Bowen’s pads and extending the arms to controlling him from the play. This was pretty much par for the course for most of the contest. Bowen only had 1 tackle all game.
On Adrian Peterson’s touchdown run in the first half. Sullivan and Berger did a great job creating a hole on the left side and holding the wall long enough for AP to sneak through and take it to the house. Sullivan and Fusco did a good job communicating as Sullivan funneled the NT to him while Sully moved to the next level to block the linebacker from making the play.
Berger’s good balance and leg work makes him difficult to drive backwards. In the clip below, Bowen had no chance getting under Berger to knock him off balance or even move with the flow of the play. Berger is not really strong or explosive enough to drive defenders backwards, but he is every effective at walling off and anchoring defenders from the play.
Berger didn’t look quite as good against Philadelphia. I noticed he pull twice in the game and the result was the same both times. He couldn’t sustain his blocks and his man got past to make a play on the ball carrier. As good as Berger is with his footwork and balance in the more stationary situation like interior pass blocking, he can sometimes lose effectiveness when he is on the move. Berger is not the fastest or strongest lineman, and I think he is a player that needs his feet under him to maximize his balance, leverage and arm work. In the clip below, Berger shows good quickness and awareness to pull, but he had trouble getting under the linebacker and extending his arms. His balance and leg work just wasn’t his usual picture perfect effort. Berger could have simply just ran the smaller guy over with a power move… but that’s somewhat out of character for Berger.
Pro Football Focus gave Berger’s 22 snap at center in 2013 a 0.6 grade and a 19th overall rate. In 2010 while playing 979 snaps for Miami, PFF gave Berger a 0.5 mark which ranked him 31st. Berger grades out better as a interior pass blocker than as run blocker. He has a white-collar finesse type of workmanship quality to his style of play that is just better suited for pass protection.
Berger’s main competition going into training camp will be 2013 6th round pick Jeff Baca. The Vikings started Baca’s development as a swing interior lineman as a rookie last year by giving him some work at the center position in training camp. The Vikings will likely give Baca every opportunity to try and win the backup center spot from Berger this year.
Arif listed Baca as the top backup on his recent color coded depth chart… so, I asked him his thoughts on Joe Berger and Jeff Baca, and this is what he had to say.
It might make more sense to have Berger as the backup center and Baca at RG, but it doesn’t matter too much as both are swing players. I think they will have Baca and Berger focus on and be ready to play either center or guard as the need arises.
I think Baca has shown a history of smart play at UCLA and handled his responsibilities well in Mazzone’s spread offense (and before that, a pistol offense) and while I worry about his fit as a guard in Jeff Davidson’s system because of his size and functional strength, I do think he has the ability to play center at the next level.
Both Berger and Baca should make the 53 man roster again this year but with new coaches on staff with Jeff Davidson and a constant acquisition of new young talent like G David Yankey, G Vladimir Ducasse, G Austin Wentworth and C Zac Kerin it makes it a little more difficult for Berger to keep a foothold on his job as the top backup on the interior offensive line.