The Dalton Risner Experience Nears

Dalton Risner of the Denver Broncos walks the red carpet before the NFL Honors awards special at the Phoenix Convention Center on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023. © Joe Rondone/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK.

There is no precedent for an NFL team to turn an 0-3 start into a Super Bowl appearance, but the Minnesota Vikings will attempt to be the first.

A longshot, indeed, Minnesota added roster reinforcements last week, and at least one is trending to play this Sunday against the Carolina Panthers or soon thereafter.

The Dalton Risner Experience Nears

That man is Dalton Risner, an offensive guard added to the Vikings roster nine days ago. And after joining the roster, Risner is climbing the depth chart — in a hurry. So much so that the 28-year-old could start Sunday or at least have an impactful snap count.

Risner Experience
Nov 1, 2020; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Broncos offensive guard Dalton Risner (66) in the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Chargers at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports.

Risner was asked about his familiarity with the Vikings playbook following a week-plus in the Twin Cities, and he replied, “I’ve been in that thing knee-deep for a week, and I feel really good about it.”

The veteran lineman also received snaps with the first-team offense at practice, an omen suggesting he’ll be a part of the main fivesome before too long.

Dec 8, 2019; Houston, TX, USA; Denver Broncos offensive guard Dalton Risner (66) warms up before a game against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports.

Vikings skipper Kevin O’Connell said about Risner, “Whether it’s left or right guard, we’ll see a rotation in practice and see how our depth looks in event we have a new combination.”

Fans have wondered for over a week if Risner would grab right or left guard responsibilities, as his resume historically indicates a left guard preference, but Minnesota already employs Ezra Cleveland at the spot, and he’s played wonderfully through three games of 2023.

O’Connell also hinted that his coaching staff would play the best five offensive linemen, regardless of preexisting role or, in Ed Ingram’s case, draft stock.

Jul 18, 2019; Englewood, CO, USA; Denver Broncos offensive tackle Dalton Risner (66) during drills at the UCHealth Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports.

Risner signed with the Vikings for one year in a deal expandable to $4 million. That’s starting OG money, and any extended stay on the bench would be a little odd.

The new Viking was coworkers with current Vikings offensive line coach Chris Kuper in Denver for three years, so the relationship angle checks out. The Broncos drafted Risner in the 2nd Round of the 2019 NFL Draft, and the man was actually linked to the Vikings via the draft lead-up process. Now, four years later, there’s a realistic path for the man to start with the Vikings as early as Sunday or in Week 5.

Sep 24, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell takes the field before the game against the Los Angeles Chargers at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports.

Why would the Vikings sign an offensive guard, as they seem pretty well set in the trenches? Simple — improvement and depth. Cleveland’s contract expires at the end of the 2023 season. It is unclear if Minnesota is dying to have him back beyond a rookie deal. On the right side at guard, the aforementioned Ingram fired up a topsy-turvy rookie season, succumbing to gaffes and poor performance early in the season before starting to right the ship down the stretch. Ingram’s performance so far in 2023 is a mixed bag. Signing Risner proves, on paper, the Vikings sincerity in improving the offensive line after years of mediocrity and, in some years, downright tragedy.

Moreover, Risner is an offensive guard commodity that Vikings fans aren’t used to — he protects against the pass better than the run. For years, Vikings football has showcased the inverse. Perhaps the Vikings can, once and for all, end the stale mindset of run-over-pass offensive linemen in terms of skillset emphasis.

And if all goes well, Risner should play sometime in the next two games, if not Sunday in Charlotte.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ Basset Hounds, and The Doors (the band).

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