Thanks to coach Mike Tice, the sum of this group was better than the individual parts. Quarterback Jay Cutler was sacked a league-high 57 times in 17 games (including playoffs), including 11 in three games by Green Bay, though a lot of that falls on scheme and Cutler and not the line. Omiyale may never be an elite pass protector, but he's the best left tackle on the roster and seems more at home there than at right tackle or left guard. Chris Williams was supposed to be the left tackle for the next decade when he was drafted in the first round in 2008, but he lost the job to Omiyale. He has played pretty well at guard, even though his body type seems better suited to left tackle. Kreutz is not only the line leader but the team leader. What he has lost in athleticism over 13 years of trench warfare, he more than makes up for with toughness, guile, intelligence and heart. Garza works well together with Kreutz, and they have played alongside each other for six years, but he may have to hold off challenges from younger players in the near future. Webb, a seventh-round pick, contributed more than any other rookie this year, making the huge jump in class from West Texas A&M.
There is 34 years of experience tied up in the starting group and it showed in a solid performance. Detroit finished 20th in rushing average (4.0 yards per carry), though that figure is artificially low based on the lack of quality play at running back with rookie Jahvid Best slowed by turf toe for much of the season. Lions quarterbacks were sacked 27 times, the sixth-fewest amount in the league. Backus has made 160 straight starts and had what the coaches felt was his best season, and a lot of that was attributable to Sims, who filled what had been a five-year void at left guard. Cherilus validated his first-round pick status, even though his season was cut short by a knee injury. Raiola, solid despite being undersized, is the heart soul of this unit, and probably the entire offense. The one question mark was Peterman, who struggled with a sore foot most of the season. Hilliard stepped in for Cherilus and proved he can start at this level. He is a free agent and the Lions might lose him. Fox, a rookie, showed promise. Gandy, Ugoh and Thomas didn't play a down all season.
The starting unit had a rough season with both guards lost to injured reserve and Loadholt taking a step back in his second year. Minnesota tied for 15th in sacks allowed (36) and ninth in quarterback hits (87). With Adrian Peterson, the Vikings finished eighth in rushing average (4.4 per carry). Herrera suffered a torn left anterior cruciate ligament on Nov. 21 against Green Bay and Hutchinson broke his hand a week later at Washington. Sullivan, meanwhile, injured both his left and right calf and was slowed for a portion of the season by that issue. McKinnie started all 16 games and is a good left tackle, but overall the Vikings need more consistency and better production from these five. Cook and DeGeare stepped in as the starters at right and left guard, respectively. Cook figures to become a free agent this offseason but could be kept around because of his versatility. Cooper, signed as an undrafted free agent out of Oklahoma in 2009, could get an opportunity to challenge Sullivan for the starting job in training camp. Brown and Welch were promoted from the practice squad during the season. The Vikings' decision to release offensive line coach Pat Morris and assistant line coach Jim Hueber last week means the team likely will be going away from a zone blocking scheme.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.