Vikings’ deep pre-camp preview: Tackles

Phil Loadholt and Matt Kalil are a couple of the top-10 wage-earners on the team. How did they perform in 2013? We look at their statistics and rankings in our preview of the Vikings’ offensive tackles.

The players: Matt Kalil, Phil Loadholt, David Yankey, Kevin Murphy, Joe Berger, Antonio Richardson, Mike Remmers, Matt Hall, Pierce Burton; Charlie Johnson has played tackle and Yankey could offer support there, too.

Positional spending: With the focal point of the Vikings offense starting with the running game and Adrian Peterson, the Vikings have invested heavily in their offensive line. They are eighth in the league with $24.18 million invested in the offensive line as a whole in 2014, according to Their starting tackles, Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt, account for a solid portion of that cost. While Kalil’s left tackle position is often considered the most important position on the line, Loadholt has the largest average annual salary among the team’s offensive linemen and is fifth overall among the Vikings at $6.25 million per year, but his 2014 cap charge is slightly below his annual average, at $5.75 million. Kalil, meanwhile, is still on his rookie contract, averaging $4.94 million per year with a 2014 cap number of $5.39 million.

Last year: Despite Kalil struggling with injury during the season, he started every game. Loadholt missed only one start. And they were the bookends that helped protect the rotation of quarterbacks and provided the impetus for an outside running game that helped the Vikings to the eighth-ranked rushing attack. The only other tackle to make a start last year, J’Marcus Webb, is no longer on the team.

The outlook: The team is set with their starters, as Kalil is expected to be ready for full-time action by the first training camp practice next Friday after offseason surgery. The battles will be for backup duty, with Yankey offering some versatility and Richardson a highly regarded undrafted free agent whose main concern comes because of knee troubles in college that caused some teams to take him off their radar while the Vikings gave him a clean enough bill of health at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Deep stats: While Loadholt’s big contract comes under scrutiny as a right tackle, the Vikings ranked second in the league with a 7.6-yard average rushing around right end, but they were 23rd in the league rushing over right tackle. They were fairly average rushing to the left side, slightly better around left end than left tackle. Kalil received an overall negative grade by Pro Football Focus, doing better in his pass blocking than run blocking. Loadholt, meanwhile, received a very positive grade of 20.8 overall, 7.2 in pass blocking and 13.0 in run blocking, finishing as the 11th-ranked tackle in league while Kalil was 51st.

Breakout possibility: Back to full health, Kalil is expected to be much improved in his third season. While Kalil sat out the full-team drills in the offseason practices, Murphy was the fill-in. But Kalil is entering an important season. His contract runs through 2015 with a fifth-year option following that, but he would be eligible for an extension after this season.

Sleeper potential: Richardson wasn’t drafted because of a bad knee, but the Vikings were confident he was worth the risk after the draft. The talent is certainly there to provide backup support at tackle if the knee doesn’t flare up.

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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