Vikings Could Be without Starting Lineman on Monday

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Monday’s matchup against the San Francisco 49ers is an opportunity for the Minnesota Vikings to steal an unexpected win. After starting the season with a 2-4 record, the margin for error is slim, and the franchise must come away with some of those surprise victories to save the season. Facing a strong defensive line, perhaps the best in the NFL, the Vikings might be without one of their offensive linemen.

Vikings Could Be without Starting Lineman on Monday

Starting left guard Ezra Cleveland exited the game in Week 6 at Solider Field with a foot injury and didn’t return. Free agent addition Dalton Risner took over for him. Cleveland missed Thursday’s practice, and his status for Monday is in jeopardy.

Vikings Could Be Without Starting Lineman on Monday
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Cleveland has been a staple on Minnesota’s line since he was drafted in 2020. He was a left tackle at Boise State, and his draft stock got some traction in the days before the draft. The Vikings eventually picked him in the second round and moved him to right guard, where he played in his debut season.

In 2021, the purple team switched him to left guard, where he has played ever since. Cleveland has been a reliable starter, missing a few games in his rookie season but suiting up in 45 straight games. That streak might end on Monday.

Head coach Kevin O’Connell spoke on Thursday about Cleveland’s potential availability but also about his replacement in case he can’t play:

Ezra is progressing pretty well, getting the swelling down. I know he’s feeling better and better. We’ll see what his workflow potentially could look like as the week goes on but I thought Dalton (Risner), things that jumped out when he went in there, he was incredibly detailed for a guy that really has been progressing towards getting that opportunity in there and he was very physical in the run game, it really showed up.

You can tell the game makes sense to him when he is in there, no matter the post-snap movement or the look of the defense. He can adapt and get the job done regardless of what the circumstances were going on in the game against a team that was moving a lot upfront. I thought he did a great job and we’ll continue to get him a little bit more work as Ezra works his way back.

Kevin O’Connell

The offensive lines used to be a disaster in Minnesota for roughly a decade, but the 2023 version has been decent in both the run but also the pass game. In addition to having solid starters, the Vikings employ a good backup. Risner was a four-year starter in Denver at left guard but has the flexibility to play all over the line.

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He should be considered to be a luxury backup. Many guards in recent years in Minnesota would’ve been benched for a guy with his qualities. If Cleveland is forced to miss the matchup with the strong front of the 49ers, the line should be fine with Risner sliding into the starting unit.

A big emphasis will be placed on the running game, with Justin Jefferson missing at least the next three games and the passing game apparently struggling without him. Cleveland is an excellent blocker in the running game and would be missed in that regard. He is in the final year of his rookie contract and has improved in each of his four seasons.

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The left guard was the only player who missed Thursday’s practice, the first one of the week. Cornerback Akayleb Evans, pass rusher Patrick Jones, and wideout Jalen Nailor were all limited. Nailor could come off IR in time for the game, providing a spark with Jefferson having to watch from the sidelines. If Evans can’t go in the game, sophomore Andrew Booth could get some run.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt