The Minnesota Vikings season opener at Cincinnati is 76 days away. Fans are excited to watch this team again. Even being at training camp will be more exciting than usual given how last season unfolded.
From 2006-2011 that number 76 was worn by Hall of Fame left guard Steve Hutchinson. Before arriving in Minnesota, he spent five seasons with the Seattle Seahawks and was drafted no.17 overall by them out of Michigan.
The Vikings signed him to a $49 million/seven-year deal, which was the richest in league history for a guard. The deal also included the infamous “poison pill,” which meant his whole contract would be fully guaranteed if he was not the highest paid lineman on the team at any point of his deal. Seattle chose not to match the offer. He spent his final NFL season in 2012 and in 12 seasons, he started in all 169 games he appeared in. Hutchinson was elected to the Hall of Fame last year.
During Hutchinson’s six seasons in purple, he was a four-time Pro-Bowler and a three-time First-Team All-Pro selection. In 2006, he helped Chester Taylor rush for a career-high 1,216 yards and a career-high seven touchdowns the following season. His excellent blocking especially helped in 2009 when the Vikings nearly made it to the Super Bowl (sorry for bringing this up Vikings fans) with Brett Favre, Adrian Peterson, Taylor, Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin and Visanthe Shiancoe. They also had a very good offensive lineman with Hutchinson, Bryant McKinnie, John Sullivan, Anthony Herrera and rookie Phil Loadholt.
“He’s the ring leader of this offensive line. It’s still funny to me how you let this guy go. He’s a leader, he gets the job done. He’s a beast, that’s the way I explain how he is on the field.”
Vikings fans have learned to appreciate good line play even more lately given how poorly the unit has played since 2014. If Ezra Cleveland even has an ok year at left guard, it would greatly help this team. Imagine what a Hutchinson or Randall McDaniel type guard would have done for this team.
The biggest question mark once again for this team is the offensive line. They should be better, but the question is how much better will it be. Rookie Christian Darrisaw may not play as well this season as Riley Reiff did last season, but Cleveland and Wyatt Davis certainly cannot be any worse than Dakota Dozier or Dru Samia. Brian O’Neill is pretty good and while Garrett Bradbury has not been very good, he should improve in year three.
If this line even does ok, the Vikings could make a deep playoff run. We saw in 2017 what an average offensive line did for them. Maybe they could go deep again, but perhaps even deeper this year than they did that year.