Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from www.purplePTSD writer and editor of purplePTSD and VikingsTerritory, Joe Oberle.
Conventional wisdom says the Vikings are set, roster-wise, for the coming season. They reportedly strengthened an already great defense by adding Sheldon Richardson at defensive tackle. They upgraded at quarterback with the acquisition of Kirk Cousins to throw the ball to top-tier wideouts Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. And running back Dalvin Cook returns from injury to fulfill the promise exhibited in his rookie season.
Everything is set to get over the next hurdle and into the Super Bowl, right? In fact one website has them matching the Philadelphia Eagles with the best roster in the league. So, it’s a done deal. Well, not exactly. There are a couple places with some depth issues (corner and linebacker) and that one other nagging question: the offensive line.
The line was serviceable last season, and kept quarterback Case Keenum upright for much of the year while opening enough holes for Cook to garner some early ROY talk before he tore his ACL. But, speaking of injuries, when they started to befall the offensive line, the unit struggled—particularly at the end of the season when they were needed the most.
Left guard Nick Easton and center Pat Elflein were lost to foot injuries, and the Vikings line began to resemble the patchwork group of 2016, when injuries contributed to a 3-8 slide after a 5-0 start.
In addition, this past offseason the Vikings lost starting right guard Joe Berger to retirement and backup swingman Jeremiah Sirles signed with the Carolina Panthers. So, the right guard spot, where Remmers filled in last season (moving over from right tackle late in the season when Berger had to move to center), appears to be the key position of the offensive line this year—and Remmers is the X factor.
Remmers saw a lot of time during OTAs and minicamp at the right guard spot, while Rashod Hill filled in for him at right tackle. If everyone is healthy (as they are expected to be) for the beginning of the season, you should see Riley Reiff at left tackle, Easton at left guard and Elflein at center. And that means where Remmers ends up, right guard or tackle, will affect how the line shakes out.
“I’m just going to do whatever they want me to do,” Remmers said at the end of minicamp. “When I go home, I will look at guard and tackle and be ready for anything. You never know what’s going to happen in the season. So, I am not worried about that right now. I am going to train as much as I can at both positions.”
Remmers has played well at both spots, and as a swingman it is part of his job to do both. But is there a separate kind of mentality required when playing one spot versus the other?
“You’ve got to have the same mentality,” he said. “It’s football on the offensive line and everyone has got to have the same mentality.”
Okay, so maybe that wasn’t a very good question I asked. But it seemed worthwhile given how much switching Remmers has done this past spring.
“It just depends on how everything shakes out,” Zimmer said when asked about Remmers at tackle early in OTAs. “This week we decided to keep him at tackle; maybe next week we’ll put him at guard. But at this point Rashod Hill was a little bit banged up this week, so we said ‘let’s keep him there and look at him again this week.’ We can look at [Danny] Isidora at guard, [Tom] Compton at guard and kind of see where we’re at there and then move forward.”
When Hill returned, observers saw a lot of Remmers at guard. And that was just fine with Remmers.
“Rashod, he’s not just a great teammate but a great friend of mine,” Remmers said. “Our wives get along so we hang out a lot outside of football. He’s just a great dude, and it’s been a lot of fun playing next to him.”
So, then maybe it will depend on how Hill does at tackle. And the word is that he lost some weight and looked good at TCO Performance Center last month.
“He’s doing a great job,” offensive coordinator John DeFilippo said of Hill. “He’s doing a great job stepping in there. He’s doing a really nice job in the pass game. In the run game he’s continuing to make progress, so Tony [Sparano] does a great job with those guys.”
Or maybe things are dependent one how Isidora does at right guard. If he is the better player there than Hill is at tackle, does Remmers move back to tackle?
“We’ve been mixing him in some with the first group and some with the second group,” Zimmer said of Isidora. “He continues to get better. I went back to watch all his plays from the past season and when he was in he did a good job. We just have to see how it shakes out when we get to camp.”
And what about the rookie, Brian O’Neill, who is a converted tight end (who was seen catching a pass at minicamp) and may be undersized at tackle, but is gaining weight and perhaps even some traction for some right tackle snaps?
“He’s done a great job,” Remmers said of O’Neill. “It’s tough, I know as a rookie coming in it’s tough. It’s a big playbook and a lot of good players around you, so he’s a doing a great job at adapting and learning. You can definitely tell he’s improved a lot in this time.”
Zimmer said it best (and a couple of times): “We just have to see how it shakes out when we get to camp.” Well, this position battle will be very interesting to watch. If all these players that have been spoken about have a legit chance to earn playing time on the starting unit, then it speaks well to the line’s depth. But, on the other hand, if they are scrambling to figure who goes where because no one stands out, then it’s a problem.
“There’s a lot of things technique-wise that you look at,” Zimmer said to a question about linemen separating themselves. “Pass protection, a lot of certain things with the technique. In the run game it’s a little bit tougher to evaluate those things because you’re not coming off the ball and all that. It’s always mental mistakes, going to the right guy, working together with the guy next to him. It’s all those things.”
Look for the veteran Remmers to separate himself in those ways and after he is slotted, the rest of the right side of the offensive line falls in line. Remmers is the X factor.