You knew this was coming.
If there’s one aspect of the team that I’ve spoken about most on my myriad of failed podcasts, it’s the offensive line. I vividly recall ‘Locked On Vikings’ host Luke Braun’s telling me in 2016 on the podcast we used to do with Joe Oberle (who I started ‘Morning Joes’ with, which became our new radio show w/ Mike Tice on KDLM Radio in Detroit Lakes ‘The VikingsTerritory Breakdown’ (complicated, I know)) ‘The purpleJOURNAL Podcast’ that the Vikings had a plan for their offensive live.
I’m still waiting to hear what that plan is.
Wait, that sounded passive aggressive toward Braun, whose football knowledge greatly/obviously outweighs mine (he’s just much younger than me, so he still had that thing that dies in most Vikings fans around 30… What’s it called? Oh yeah, hope). I more just meant it as a casual way to bring up the fact that this Vikings team hasn’t really had a plan or anything near it since.
One could say that they’re closer than ever, as there are some bright spots on the right side of the line and they used a first-round pick on their center of the future Garrett Bradbury. However, Bradbury hasn’t progressed as many had hoped, which ended up being the impetus for my reaching out to former Vikings offensive linemen and coaches to see exactly what was going on with the unit.
What I found was as interesting as it was troubling.
I spoke with multiple former Vikings offensive linemen, and some former coaches, some who have played under or coached with Zimmer and some who haven’t.
I had a former player watch tape of Garrett Bradbury as there’s been conflicting takes on his development (or lack thereof). Either he’s already a bust or a work in progress at a spot that some online have said takes 4-5 years to fully develop.
Here’s a transcribed breakdown of what I was told after we watched tape of Bradbury’s final few games (and I clarified who the offensive line coaches were, as you’ll see a reference to).
“I have no reason to think Bradbury will necessarily be a bust but he is playing very poorly right now. Bad footwork, no anchor in pass pro, off balance constantly. The most shocking thing is the lack of awareness. Looks lost on the field a lot. When I say bad footwork too I mean it’s loose. He can move his feet but he’s taking massive steps on reach blocks and play action sets and making it so he literally can’t take a second step. Showed up over and over again against Tampa.”
That’s not all:
“The reason that I asked about the OL coach is because the whole OL plays like shit. They look completely unprepared to play to me. It’s bad right now dude. Really bad. I’m sure there’s plenty of talent but it’s not showing up.”
What about Cousins?
“Anyone that blames Kirk for what is going on is out of their mind. He had an exceptional OL when they were healthy in Washington, aside from Spencer Long, and the OL there was run by a technician in Bill Callahan. When you watched the OL there things were intentional, every single guy on the Vikings OL plays with different technique. Sometimes a certain guy will do a certain thing different to suit his abilities/skill set but here it looks like the Vikings OL doesn’t even have a coach. It looks like they get handed a piece of paper and someone says, go ahead and figure it out on your own.”
Now, I pride myself on never talking about things that I don’t know about (surprising, I know). I love to defer to experts, especially guys who have played the position as they see things on tape that I never will.
This is a damning indictment of not only Zimmer, but of guys like Gary Kubiak, Rick Dennison, and Phil Rauscher. How can you hire someone like Rauscher, and then have a line that is playing that way, that late in the season?
The fact that this team changed the way that quarterbacks get paid to land Kirk Cousins, only to completely abandon any plan to protect him? That in and of itself is a fireable offense.
The argument against that always has been “they want a better run-blocking line than a pass blocking one”, but this goes way beyond that.
I’ve also heard stories of Zimmer angrily forcing the offense/O-Line to go back after players on the line pointed out the blitz package he saw, because apparently Zimmer cares more about winning a scrimmage than … having his O-lineman doing what their supposed to do?
That story seems far-fetched, but when the stories also broke a month ago of Zimmer giving his defense “cheat sheets” to shut down RPO plays by John DeFilippo in practice? Seems like an on-brand move.
There’s a lot more to this, but it overlaps with the next entry into this series. But, I thought that we should look at the offensive line through a different lens as I’ve been talking about the same lack of investment stuff for years now and I’m sure you guys are very well versed in that aspect of the team.
I’ve long said that Zimmer is a glorified defensive coordinator, something that former coaches and players have touched on (see above). However, I think that isn’t a fair assessment as he isn’t just essentially giving whatever offensive coordinator (if Kubiak leaves it’ll be one-a-year for Cousins) full control over an entire unit. He isn’t just prioritizing the defense over that unit. He’s actively sabotaging aspects of that unit in practice and leaving the coaching of arguably the most important position group to the wind.
That means a lot, and also shows a stubbornness that is also a fireable offense in a league that is always changing and has had a revolution in terms of analytics and new offensive schemes. It’s 2021 and the Vikings have learned NOTHING from their success or failure since 2014.
If they had? They wouldn’t have used five of their 15 picks on defensive backs in the record-shattering 2020 Draft (and only one on an actual guard, which was the 15th of 15 picks and the second-to-last pick in the entire draft).
And the line wouldn’t be playing bad, really bad dude.