Sunday Slant: How much longer for Hutchinson?

Steve Hutchinson may end up being a Hall of Fame player, but is he starting to show signs of age in run blocking, pass blocking and penalties? He's also nearing the end of an expensive contract. The evidence and the reaction inside.

Christian Ponder's last outing against the Oakland Raider is most remembered for the three interceptions he threw, but the fact that he ended as the Minnesota Vikings' leading rusher had as much to do with the protection problems as it did Adrian Peterson's first-quarter exit from the game with an ankle injury.

Ponder was under pressure much of the game, and it wasn't lost on receiver Percy Harvin after he had a chance to watch the film. Twice during a brief interview when asked about aspects of the game other than protection, Harvin brought it back to the lack of time Ponder was given.

"There's a lot big hits. Ponder just can't set his feet. If he does, we've got a couple walk-in touchdowns," Harvin said when asked the effectiveness of the Vikings' play-action game. "If the quarterback can't set his feet, he can't throw the ball."

Surprisingly, one of the culprits in the busted protections was guard Steve Hutchinson, who was pushed back in the running game and run around in pass protection. With any other player, the occasional lapses could be expected. With a decorated former Pro Bowler like Hutchinson, it could be cause for concern.

The old Steve Hutchinson arrived in Minnesota in 2006, stolen from underneath the nose of Seattle Seahawks management, and immediately began stonewalling his competition. In his first time going against a different colored jersey as a member of the Minnesota Vikings, Hutchinson stopped one Kansas City Chiefs defender after another in one-on-one drills during a controlled training camp practice. It may have been the single-most impressive display of strength and leverage in a practice session I've ever witnessed.

But the "old Steve Hutchinson" might be showing signs of age. Despite being about as healthy as he has been in years, he has been beaten with strength, leverage and quickness. Sure, there are high standards being applied, but seven-time Pro Bowlers and All-Pros should be held to a different standard.

"He's still a very good player. He's still a guy who's very respected around the League and people still are conscious of what he's able to do from a run-blocking standpoint," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "He's probably not the same Steve that he was five years ago or four years ago, but he's still very effective for our team, both in run blocking as well as pass protection."

Years ago, no one would have moved Hutchinson off his spot in one-on-one battles. Last week, Kamerion Wimbley, a Raiders linebacker, pushed Hutchinson into the backfield and made the tackle on Peterson for a 7-yard loss on the second drive of the game. Worse yet, Hutchinson was also called for holding, a penalty that was declined because of the loss on the play.

During the second drive of the second half, Desmond Bryant beat Hutchinson with speed and was barely touched on his way to a 3-yard sack of Ponder in the middle of a three-and-out series.

Frazier tried to put a good spin when asked about Hutchinson's performance. He would accomplish little by criticizing a player who has been one of the best guards in league history and put up with relatively ineffective blocking schemes and confusing coaching at the position in the past. Frazier already made the correct call in getting rid of the offensive line coaches under Childress and replaced them with Jeff Davidson, who appears to the have the respect of his players. But with a lack of surrounding talent, the Vikings offensive line finally fell to dead last in the STATS LLC ranking of pass protection in the NFL.

Who knows how well Hutchinson would still be playing if he was surrounded by more established linemen. He has had good games recently, too, but he hasn't had the consistency of his formerly dominating self.

"He's been pretty healthy this season. He's getting a little bit older, but that equates to experience in his case. It allows him to do some things from a mental standpoint that he might not be able to do quite as well from a physical standpoint," Frazier said. "So he's offset whatever he doesn't have from a physical standpoint that he had earlier, by the fact that he has another year's experience. He can anticipate things a lot quicker than a younger guy could. So, he's still a very effective football player for us."

Frazier and Harvin both indicated that the Vikings' pass protection isn't allowing them enough time to even open up explosive plays down the field.

"We just have to either get the ball out quicker or figure out some different ways to protect the quarterback," Harvin said.

Another measure of offensive linemen is the penalties they commit. For a long time, Hutchinson was the standard-bearer in that regard, as well. In 2006, his first season with the Vikings, he didn't commit a penalty, despite the other four starting offensive linemen committing a combined 28 penalties. The following year, he had only one false start, just like last year. In 2008, he had no penalties against him. Prior to this year, he went about a year-and-a-half without a holding call. This year, he has already been called for holding three times and has a false start.

All of this isn't to say that Hutchinson can't still be effective, and he's the least of their offensive line problems, but he's the most expensive player on an inadequate offensive line. Although he isn't likely to return to his unbelievably dominating ways in 2006 and 2007, he showed at the end of the Vikings' second drive – the same drive he was blown backwards – that can he still lead a running back into the end zone. Thanks to three personal foul penalties on the Raiders, the Vikings were able to overcome their own mistakes and Hutchinson and John Sullivan executed a nice combination block that helped pave a big lane for Peterson on his way to a 12-yard touchdown.

But as the Vikings look to the future and see a number of long-time producers getting up there in age and salary – Kevin Williams, E.J. Henderson, Jim Kleinsasser and Antoine Winfield – Hutchinson will likely have to be included in their post-season analysis. The Vikings made him the richest guard in NFL history with his poison-pill contract of 2006, paying him like an elite left tackle. Six years later, he will be entering the final year of his contract and schedule to have a $7 million cap number.

Parting ways with him would mean creating another hole in a roster as tattered as an old pin cushion, but it's looking like preparing for his eventual departure can't wait much longer.


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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\r\n\r\n","mobileBody":"Christian Ponder's last outing against the Oakland Raider is most remembered for the three interceptions he threw, but the fact that he ended as the Minnesota Vikings' leading rusher had as much to do with the protection problems as it did Adrian Peterson's first-quarter exit from the game with an ankle injury. Ponder was under pressure much of the game, and it wasn't lost on receiver Percy Harvin after he had a chance to watch the film. Twice during a brief interview when asked about aspects of the game other than protection, Harvin brought it back to the lack of time Ponder was given. \"There's a lot big hits. Ponder just can't set his feet. If he does, we've got a couple walk-in touchdowns,\" Harvin said when asked the effectiveness of the Vikings' play-action game. \"If the quarterback can't set his feet, he can't throw the ball.\" Surprisingly, one of the culprits in the busted protections was guard Steve Hutchinson, who was pushed back in the running game and run around in pass protection. With any other player, the occasional lapses could be expected. With a decorated former Pro Bowler like Hutchinson, it could be cause for concern. The old Steve Hutchinson arrived in Minnesota in 2006, stolen from underneath the nose of Seattle Seahawks management, and immediately began stonewalling his competition. In his first time going against a different colored jersey as a member of the Minnesota Vikings, Hutchinson stopped one Kansas City Chiefs defender after another in one-on-one drills during a controlled training camp practice. It may have been the single-most impressive display of strength and leverage in a practice session I've ever witnessed. But the \"old Steve Hutchinson\" might be showing signs of age. Despite being about as healthy as he has been in years, he has been beaten with strength, leverage and quickness. Sure, there are high standards being applied, but seven-time Pro Bowlers and All-Pros should be held to a different standard. \"He's still a very good player. He's still a guy who's very respected around the League and people still are conscious of what he's able to do from a run-blocking standpoint,\" Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. \"He's probably not the same Steve that he was five years ago or four years ago, but he's still very effective for our team, both in run blocking as well as pass protection.\" Years ago, no one would have moved Hutchinson off his spot in one-on-one battles. Last week, Kamerion Wimbley, a Raiders linebacker, pushed Hutchinson into the backfield and made the tackle on Peterson for a 7-yard loss on the second drive of the game. Worse yet, Hutchinson was also called for holding, a penalty that was declined because of the loss on the play. During the second drive of the second half, Desmond Bryant beat Hutchinson with speed and was barely touched on his way to a 3-yard sack of Ponder in the middle of a three-and-out series. Frazier tried to put a good spin when asked about Hutchinson's performance. He would accomplish little by criticizing a player who has been one of the best guards in league history and put up with relatively ineffective blocking schemes and confusing coaching at the position in the past. Frazier already made the correct call in getting rid of the offensive line coaches under Childress and replaced them with Jeff Davidson, who appears to the have the respect of his players. But with a lack of surrounding talent, the Vikings offensive line finally fell to dead last in the STATS LLC ranking of pass protection in the NFL. Who knows how well Hutchinson would still be playing if he was surrounded by more established linemen. He has had good games recently, too, but he hasn't had the consistency of his formerly dominating self. \"He's been pretty healthy this season. He's getting a little bit older, but that equates to experience in his case. It allows him to do some things from a mental standpoint that he might not be able to do quite as well from a physical standpoint,\" Frazier said. \"So he's offset whatever he doesn't have from a physical standpoint that he had earlier, by the fact that he has another year's experience. He can anticipate things a lot quicker than a younger guy could. So, he's still a very effective football player for us.\" Frazier and Harvin both indicated that the Vikings' pass protection isn't allowing them enough time to even open up explosive plays down the field. \"We just have to either get the ball out quicker or figure out some different ways to protect the quarterback,\" Harvin said. Another measure of offensive linemen is the penalties they commit. For a long time, Hutchinson was the standard-bearer in that regard, as well. In 2006, his first season with the Vikings, he didn't commit a penalty, despite the other four starting offensive linemen committing a combined 28 penalties. The following year, he had only one false start, just like last year. In 2008, he had no penalties against him. Prior to this year, he went about a year-and-a-half without a holding call. This year, he has already been called for holding three times and has a false start. All of this isn't to say that Hutchinson can't still be effective, and he's the least of their offensive line problems, but he's the most expensive player on an inadequate offensive line. Although he isn't likely to return to his unbelievably dominating ways in 2006 and 2007, he showed at the end of the Vikings' second drive – the same drive he was blown backwards – that can he still lead a running back into the end zone. Thanks to three personal foul penalties on the Raiders, the Vikings were able to overcome their own mistakes and Hutchinson and John Sullivan executed a nice combination block that helped pave a big lane for Peterson on his way to a 12-yard touchdown. But as the Vikings look to the future and see a number of long-time producers getting up there in age and salary – Kevin Williams, E.J. Henderson, Jim Kleinsasser and Antoine Winfield – Hutchinson will likely have to be included in their post-season analysis. The Vikings made him the richest guard in NFL history with his poison-pill contract of 2006, paying him like an elite left tackle. Six years later, he will be entering the final year of his contract and schedule to have a $7 million cap number. Parting ways with him would mean creating another hole in a roster as tattered as an old pin cushion, but it's looking like preparing for his eventual departure can't wait much longer. 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