If there has been one through line that has both limited this otherwise incredibly talented Vikings roster during the Spielman/Zimmer era and that had also been the topic of nearly every article I’ve written during the season since I decided to make a go at my dream as an unemployed dirtbag back in 2015, it has been the Minnesota Vikings’ offensive line(s).
With the Vikings waiting until their last pick and the second to last pick in the entire draft (move over mr. irrelevant, say hello to mr. proof the Vikings don’t learn from their mistakes!) to draft a guard, and also spending five of a record breaking 15 picks on defensive backs (and another first rounder on the corner spot), I wasn’t nearly as enthused about the 2020 draft as nearly everyone else.
One of the larger responses I had to the continued lack of investment at the guard position via the draft was that the Vikings would move left tackle Riley Reiff to left guard, and have rookie Ezra Cleveland replace him at guard. My response to that was that we’ve seen all of this before. The Vikings don’t draft an offensive lineman, period, before the 4th-round after 2012 to 2017, and when they have taken a lineman they take a center or tackle and move one or the other to guard.
Take Mike Remmers, who joined the Vikings the same off-season as Reiff. Despite the fact that Remmers had never played guard, and that he and Reiff were hailed as the team finally investing in a line that up until that point had been patchwork and season-endingly bad.
I shouldn’t have to remind Vikings fans of the 2016 season, a year in which the Vikings were undefeated going into the Bye and also a favorite by many at that point to make a legitimate championship run.
Despite that, and the best odds the Vikings had since 2009, which made me almost fly to Vegas to put my money where my mouth was (I loved the Sam Bradford move). The (shared) hope was that with the 5-0 start and the bet365 bonus that also was available at the time and is also available now, I could both say I told you so and also, you know, pay my rent. As the guy at the Blackjack table who gets yelled at for doubling down on every hand, I gravitated towards that because it was made for those of us new to the sports betting world. As a Vikings fan that felt right, as after almost six-decades of futility, perhaps now is the right time to start punting and believing on and in the Vikings.
But then things went Vikings as they always do. Which people chalked up to bad luck. Which, as the main Vikings media member that has been called reactionary before every single failed season For pointing out that maybe they need to invest more in the offensive line?
The reality of the 3-8 finish that year and the subsequent playoff failures after that was that the team had painted themselves in a corner by drafting corner Mike Hughes in the first round of the draft in 2018, after years of neglecting the offensive line.
There were multiple plug-and-play interior lineman that were thought of as early second round level talent. The Vikings thought they could take Hughes and then one of the four (Austin Corbett, Will Hernandez, Braden Smith, James Daniels) would be available in the second round. That didn’t happen, so they drafted tackle Brian O’Neill who was thought of by everyone as two to three year project.
That worked out, for O’Neill, who went on to have one of the best rookie seasons ever. For Remmers? He and his blindside cohort, Tom Compton, went on to have a historically bad 2018 season. It was so bad that some say that Aztec calendar makers were just off six years when they made the calendar that ended in 2012. Roland Emmerich is currently working on a disaster film about … You get the drift.
I was never a fan of the Reiff (or Cleveland) to guard move ideas because Reiff hasn’t played guard since he was unable to buy alcohol. Turns out I had nothing to worry about, and people in the comment section owe me an apology (which’d probably break the internet to the point of ending reality as we know it), as new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak discussed the line with reporters today.
Kubiak was specifically asked if the team was planning on moving Reiff to guard and responded with a resounding “No”, per Vikings.com
“I think Riley played really well for us last year. I think we can do some things offensively and me as a play caller to help all our players and help Riley more, from that standpoint.”
“I’m a big Riley Reiff fan. I love him as a person, a player and a leader on our team. Nobody comes here more ready to work than Riley. It showed, We haven’t seen these guys, but watching him walk in, you can see his detail. Expecting Riley to have a great year.”
So, that raises the question as to who will fill both interior positions, especially as the team let Josh Kline go after a single season despite his encouraging play next to O’Neill on the right side of the line, especially in the run game.
Kubiak did the ‘we have good players and it is an open competition’ thing that we’ve heard for years… so, if you want to read that, be my guest.
“We’ve got a lot of good football players there. We’ve got to let them go compete. Losing, who played well for us naturally opens up a spot, but I don’t get too consumed with just a spot, you know what I mean?”
“We feel good about our depth. Let’s start practicing football, let’s start doing the things that we normally do, which is come in here in about four or five days, and those things will take care of themselves,” I like our guys. We’ve got a lot of smart guys that play really hard, and it’s our job as coaches to get them in the right spot so they can be successful.”
Gary Kubiak, master of football speak.
So there you have it! Reiff will be the left tackle this season. As has been reported, the rookie lineman Ezra Cleveland (who has no experience playing guard), will compete for the open guard spot next to Reiff.
Of that, Kubiak said:
“The nice thing is we think he has flexibility. We know he’s played tackle for a long time. Through the walk-through period, we’re working him at guard right now, so he gets reps next to Blake as they work together in the young group, and we’ll go from there.”
“We’re going to take it a day at a time, but he’s a very bright player, and we felt like we should start somewhere where he hasn’t had many reps, make sure he gets them there. We know he has a comfort zone to go back outside. We’ll settle him down probably after about a week, and we’ll take a look at exactly where we think he should be and what gives him the best chance to help our team.”
I can’t disagree, although my concern is that they’ll hurt his future as a tackle by bringing him in at guard. Vikings fans call it TJ Clemmings syndrome. However, if Cleveland can win that competition it’d be impossible to criticize the move, especially if he pans out like O’Neill, who he has been compared to.