A Viking Quietly Changed Positions
The rookies will arrive at TCO Performance Center on Sunday, July 23rd, while the veterans have two more days before they get ready for the NFL season that kicks off with a game at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on September 10th. There will be multiple interesting competitions, and one could be for a starting spot on the interior offensive line.
A Viking Quietly Changed Positions
Oli Udoh came into the league as an offensive tackle out of the small school Elon. Ex-general manager Rick Spielman made the selection in the sixth round of the 2019 NFL draft. The tackle was a large human being with intriguing athletic tools but didn’t play for a powerhouse school. Those are the traits teams have to bet on later in the draft.
Four years later, Udoh has had a solid career, already beating the expectations of a sixth-round pick. Udoh appeared in one game as a rookie, six in 2020, and all 34 during the last two seasons, starting 16 contests in 2021 and one in 2022.
Most folks remember his time as a starting right guard for Mike Zimmer’s Vikings in 2021, but he struggled mightily. The frequency of drawing penalties rightfully bothered folks.
The new regime came in and immediately signed two guards in free agency (Chris Reed and Jesse Davis) and drafted Ed Ingram in the second round. Udoh was moved back to his natural position and was the backup right tackle. One year removed from that, Udoh is apparently back as a guard — at least that is how he is listed on the official Vikings roster.
But why would they do that if he didn’t play well at that spot in 2021? Well, there are a few reasons why the move still makes sense. First of all, Ingram struggled as well, and most of it was called “rookie struggles,” but the Vikings must plan for the scenario in which it will stay the way it was and find a potential replacement for him.
GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah neither signed a new guard nor drafted one and returned the whole line. The top competition for Ingram is once again veteran Chris Reed who couldn’t beat him out last year.
Udoh allowed more QB hurries than Ingram, but Ingram allowed way more pressures, hits, and sacks. Ingram finished his debut season with a pass block efficiency of 95.3%, and Udoh had 96.3% in 2021. However, Udoh had a league-leading 16 penalties called against him, Ingram only 4.
At the end of the day, the Vikings are trying the same thing as last year. They want to create a competition between a few players and try to find the best one, betting on a serious improvement from someone.
Udoh played well when he had to replace the injured Brian O’Neill last season, so it was a surprise that the Vikings could keep him, and no other team snatched Udoh in free agency.
Another reason for the position change is the remaining tackle depth. The decision-makers drafted Vederian Lowe in 2022 and kept him all year as a fifth offensive tackle – an unusual measure. Most teams have four tackles, but they apparently liked Lowe enough to warrant an additional spot.
The other guy in the mix is Blake Brandel, who replaced Christian Darrisaw whenever he had to miss time with his pair of concussions. If the Vikings are satisfied with those two as backups, they want to find a reason to keep Udoh on the roster, and his best bet is at guard or a hybrid between both positions. Against that hybrid theory, the Vikings list other guys at multiple spots. Reed and backup center Schlottmann are listed as (G/C), so listing Udoh as tackle and guard was possible. Some other players were listed as simple (OL) – offensive lineman.
The Vikings will most likely start training camp with last year’s starting group — but without Brian O’Neill, who might not be ready. However, it is common practice to shuffle around some players, trying them out at different spots and getting them prepared if they indeed have to play at a different spot. We will know more about Udoh’s position in a few weeks.
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