At Long Last, Vikings Unveil The New Offensive Lineman

Running Game
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Finally, the Vikings unveil their newly-signed offensive lineman, the one who fans were clamoring for for a long time. The circumstances were far from ideal. Of that there can be little doubt.

Starting left guard Ezra Cleveland — who is an ironman — had to step out of the game due to an injury (the 25-year-old is in the trade rumors given that he’s playing on an expiring deal). His injury opened the chance for Dalton Risner to step into the game, finishing off the showdown between Christian Darrisaw and Garrett Bradbury.

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The 28-year-old Risner has a pile of experience in the NFL, so the transition was pretty seamless. He has played in 66 games in his career, picking up 62 starts. Needing to hop in for 10 snaps to close off the Bears isn’t something that will fluster the veteran.

The significance rests more with Minnesota’s loyal fans, the ones who have lived through more than their fair share of offensive line turmoil in recent years.

Vikings Unveil New Offensive Lineman

Kirk Cousins is getting walloped. Basically anyone who has been paying attention knows that the veteran QB needs to start taking less hits.

Generally speaking, Cleveland has been doing a nice job of keeping his QB upright. PFF lists Cleveland as their 9th-best guard, largely due to his 72.3 pass blocking grade. They think he’s only responsible for allowing a single sack and 3 QB hits for the season.

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Losing the LG is a tough blow for Minnesota, but Kevin O’Connell’s recent press conferences make it seem as though Cleveland isn’t too far off from getting back onto the field.

If, however, he needs more time to get back to 100%, then having Dalton Risner as the replacement is a nice spot to be. The former Bronco signed a 1-year deal to find employment in Minnesota, carrying a cap hit that’s at $2.625 million. So, above a league minimum deal but far from backbreaking when it comes to the team budget.

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Part of what made the signing confusing for a lot of fans has been that Risner hasn’t really gotten onto the field. Across his opening trio of games with a purple jersey on his back, Risner has only been a special teams player. Check it out:

  • W3: 0 Snaps on Offense — 4 Snaps on Special Teams
  • W4: 0 Snaps on Offense — 3 Snaps on Special Teams
  • W5: 0 Snaps on Offense — 4 Snaps on Special Teams
  • W6: 10 Snaps on Offense — 5 Snaps on Special Teams

Left up to fans, Ed Ingram would be removed from the starting lineup in favor of Risner. Minnesota’s coaching staff clearly disagrees.

Indeed, Wes Phillips and Kevin O’Connell have been stubborn in their praise for Ingram while arguing that he’s showing signs of improvement. And, to be sure, OL coach Chris Kuper deserves credit for helping to bring this OL further long. Ingram legitimately is getting better. Not fast enough for some, but the sophomore is putting together more quality reps.

The plan for Risner, then, is to be a high upside backup. Very seldom have the Vikings had the luxury of having too many competent players for their iOL. But, alongside Austin Schlottmann at center, Dalton Risner is giving Minnesota that welcome problem.

Stay tuned for the health updates regarding Ezra Cleveland throughout the week. The Monday game means the starter has an extra day to rest, but the reins will get handed over to Dalton Risner if that possibility doesn’t exist.

The upcoming 49ers game is scheduled to begin at 7:15 p.m. CDT and will take place inside U.S. Bank Stadium.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference, PFF, and Over the Cap helped with this piece.

K. Joudry is the Senior Editor for Vikings Territory and PurplePTSD. He has been covering the Vikings full time since the summer of 2021. He can be found on Twitter and as a co-host for Notes from the North, a humble Vikings podcast.