Welcome to the latest installment of the Vikings Territory Training Camp Primer series focusing on Riley Reiff, Mike Remmers and the Minnesota Vikings’ Offensive Tackle position.
Minnesota entered the offseason following a disappointing 2016 campaign with one blatantly obvious and critically important goal in mind: Improve its offensive line. The Vikings’ offensive line issues began before this past season began, as veteran right tackle Phil Loadholt opted to retire after struggling to fully recover from a torn Achilles’ injury.
This was only the beginning of Minnesota’s misery, as injuries to Matt Kalil, Andre Smith and Jake Long pressed both TJ Clemmings and Jeremiah Sirles into duty — and the results were… suspect, to say the least.
General manager Rick Spielman took action following arguably the worst collective offensive line performance over the duration of an entire season in franchise history. And while his free-agent signings of former Detroit Lions left tackle Riley Reiff and former Carolina Panthers swing tackle Mike Remmers were not universally well-received, the Vikings project to field a more consistent and durable front-five in 2017 — much of which hinges on the performances of the aforementioned pair of newly-acquired bookends.
TRAINING CAMP INVITES
|Player Name||2016 NFL Team||College Attended||Note|
|Riley Reiff||Detroit||Iowa||1st-Round Pick in 2012|
|Mike Remmers||Carolina||Oregon State||Waived by Vikings in 2014|
|Rashod Hill||Jacksonville/Minnesota||Southern Mississippi||0 Career Starts|
|Reid Fragel||Kansas City||Ohio State||1 Career Appearance|
There is not a whole lot to love about the Vikings’ current offensive tackle depth chart, as the team seemingly remains just one unfortunate injury away from an eerily similar situation to last year. That said, Reiff and Remmers have combined to start 62 of a possible 64 games over the past two seasons, offering a considerably more durable pairing than what Minnesota trotted out in 2016.
Matt Kalil swapped teams with Remmers during this past offseason, as he elected to forego a second contract with the Vikings in favor of lining up next to his brother, Panthers center Ryan Kalil, in Carolina. Reiff, who was selected 19 picks after Kalil during the 2012 NFL draft, was signed away from the rival Lions to neutralize a departure that — at least for his predecessor’s sake — was likely necessary.
Clemmings, who ultimately replaced Kalil and Long at left tackle this past season, has since been moved inside to guard in an effort to salvage what remains of the former 4th-round pick’s confidence. As a result, just two of Minnesota’s 2016 offensive tackles remain on the team’s depth chart heading into camp — which, in this scenario, should actually prove to be a good thing.
Rashod Hill, who turned in arguably the strongest performance of any Vikings offensive tackle last season during a Week 17 matchup against the Chicago Bears and Sirles are the lone survivors of Spielman’s offseason renovations. While Hill’s significant lack of experience (two appearances, zero starts) and Sirles’ underwhelming (putting it kindly) year as the team’s primary starter at right tackle does not exactly leave much room for optimism, the duo only represents 33 percent of a new-look offensive tackle group that, quite frankly, cannot play worse than the 2016 unit.
Riley Reiff & Mike Remmers: Minnesota invested $36.8 million of guaranteed money in Reiff and Remmers during free agency, giving both players an all-but-assured path to the team’s 53-man roster. In addition to the financial reasoning suggesting that the Vikings’ pair of big-money free-agent signings will enjoy a cake walk to September, both player more than likely represents the best possible option at each tackle spot, respectively.
Remmers’ talent has been under the microscope since his arrival, and his past failures — particularly against Von Miller and the Denver Broncos during Super Bowl 50 — lend reason to fans’ concerns, but he certainly remains the second-most accomplished offensive tackle on Minnesota’s depth chart next to only his expected partner across the line.
While his performance early in the season will likely dictate if Hill will have the opportunity for an encore performance, Remmers is a definitive roster lock and likely Week 1 starter against the New Orleans Saints.
Jeremiah Sirles: It’s difficult to return substandard results consistently for almost an entire season’s worth of snaps and still feel relatively secure heading into the following year, but this is exactly the position Sirles finds himself in. He started 10 games and appeared in four others for the Vikings in 2016 and was largely a back-breaking liability throughout his reign.
Sirles, however, has shown flashes of quality play — few, but it’s something — during his brief tenure in Minnesota, and he is far-and-away the most experienced player on the offensive tackle depth chart not named Reiff or Remmers. He could default his way into a backup role based on these factors alone, but without any dead money in his current one-year contract, these aspects alone won’t hold off the proverbial axe if he turns in a lackluster camp performance.
Rashod Hill: Hill finds himself in potentially the most intriguing situation that Minnesota’s 90-man roster has to offer. After appearing in one game for the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Southern Mississippi product was waived, signed by the Vikings and forced into action following an injury to Clemmings during the final week of the season. Hill played just 49 snaps (27 pass; 22 run) in his Minnesota debut, but he still managed to turn in the most complete and promising performance of any Vikings bookend in 2016.
The sample size is exceptionally small, however; and there are visible reasons as to why Hill went undrafted before being signed and later waived by the Jaguars — who weren’t exactly receiving optimal results from their offensive line either, may I add. This leads to a very simple question with a complex answer and an equally convoluted ripple effect: Is Hill a one-hit wonder or a waiver-wire definitive steal with the potential to overthrow Remmers if he struggles early?
Aviante Collins & Reid Fragel: Collins and Fragel have taken very different paths to Minnesota, but both players will enter training camp with similarly low expectations and as outside candidates to crack the Vikings’ initial 53-man roster.
Fragel has bounced around the league since being selected by the Cincinnati Bengals during the 7th Round of the 2013 NFL draft. The Vikings are his sixth team in five years and would be just the third of which to list him either on their 53-man roster or practice. Simply put, his career to date has been less than inspiring, but Minnesota isn’t in a position to be picky after this past season.
Collins, on the other hand, is a promising undrafted rookie out of Texas Christian University. His college film, subjectively speaking, suggests real promise despite notable physical limitations (as evidenced by the Mockdraftable spider chart below) — relative to NFL offensive tackles, that is.
His tape and measurables appear to agree that Collins would be better-served playing guard at the professional level, but it’s hard to discount his essentially unparalleled combination of upper-body strength and athleticism. And this becomes even more difficult to ignore when long-time positional fixtures like David Bakhtiari (Green Bay) and Joe Staley (San Francisco) share many of the same physical and athletic traits.
BATTLE TO WATCH
Rashod Hill vs. Jeremiah Sirles
To understand what is at stake in the competition between Hill and Sirles, we must first establish any pertinent roster composition trends during The Zimmer Era:
- 2014 (2-4 OT): Matt Kalil, Phil Loadholt, Mike Harris (guard/tackle), Charlie Johnson (guard/tackle)
- Note: Antonio “Tiny” Richardson, a promising undrafted free-agent signing, spent the entire 2014 season on injured reserve.
- 2015 (2-4 OT): Matt Kalil, TJ Clemmings, Mike Harris (guard/tackle), Austin Shepherd (guard/tackle)
- Note(s): Spielman traded a sixth-round pick to the San Diego Chargers on September 5, 2015 in order to acquire Jeremiah Sirles. Phil Loadholt spent the entire 2015 season on injured reserve.
- 2016 (5 OT): Matt Kalil, Andre Smith, TJ Clemmings, Jeremiah Sirles, Carter Bykowski
The three initial 53-man rosters turned in by Zimmer and Co. don’t yield much in terms of projecting their plan for 2017, but it is evident — through both slight changes and unwavering offseason remarks — that the offensive tackle position is held in higher regard now than it was in 2014. Now, this takeaway requires some context, as Minnesota’s coaching staff was likely considerably more confident in Kalil and Clemmings in 2014 than it was in 2016 for a variety of reasons largely centered around a clear lack of on-field results.
Investing in two historically durable and, at the very least, serviceable tackles this offseason in Reiff and Remmers could inspire enough confidence to roster only 3 or 4 bookends. Conversely, the lack of depth behind the aforementioned duo may lead Zimmer and his staff to open the year with as many as five tackles. If Reiff and Remmers are locks — and they are — this leaves between 1 and 3 spots for Hill, Sirles, Fragel and Collins.
Fragel has exhausted his practice squad eligibility, which has him set to compete under do-or-die regulations and, consequently, would require Minnesota to list him on its September 1st roster in order to maintain his services. Collins, on the other hand, could hypothetically be stashed away on the practice squad — assuming he clears waivers — leaving Sirles, Hill and Fragel to duke it for the remaining spots on the depth chart.
Minnesota’s decision regarding whether to keep 3, 4 or 5 offensive tackles will ultimately determine how dire the competition between Hill and Sirles truly is. The duo could merely be competing for the “primary swing tackle” denotation, but if Fragel and/or Collins manage to shake things up a little, Hill and Sirles could potentially be competing for their NFL livelihoods.
|Position||No. 1 (Starter)||No. 2 (Backup)||No. 3 (Emergency)||Practice Squad|
|Left Tackle||Riley Reiff||Rashod Hill||TJ Clemmings||Aviante Collins|
|Right Tackle||Mike Remmers||Jeremiah Sirles||N/A||N/A|
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