Late March line projection won't last

Vikings coach Leslie Frazier laid out his current depth chart on the offensive line, one that has just about no chance of staying the same. With an offseason to come together and the draft ahead, they could have new starters at three of the five positions. We examine how the dynamics, experience and salary structure on the offensive line has dramatically changed.

In an apparent nod toward youth, Leslie Frazier laid out an interesting hypothetical to reporters Wednesday at the NFL owners meetings.

If the season started tomorrow, Frazier said his starting offensive line would be Charlie Johnson at left tackle, Chris DeGeare at left guard, John Sullivan at center, Brandon Fusco at right guard and Phil Loadholt at right tackle, according to 1500 ESPN.

While that's an extremely unlikely scenario given the more veteran options the Vikings have, it would be a shift that shows just how young the Vikings have gotten in a hurry, especially at the guard position.

They released former Pro Bowl guard Steve Hutchinson and his 157 career starts. If Frazier's late March depth chart would last until the regular season, DeGeare, who was on the practice squad last year but started five games in his 2010 rookie season, would replace Hutchinson.

On the right side, Anthony Herrera had started 70 games for the Vikings over his eight-year career. But Frazier's projection of Fusco would replace those 70 starts with zero. Last year, Fusco played in only three games and got in for only 24 offensive snaps.

Realistically, Frazier's late March depth chart won't look even close to the mid-September version.

Frazier also told reporters last year's left tackle, Charlie Johnson, would initially create competition at that same position, even if the Vikings drafted a tackle like Matt Kalil in the first round. But with a full offseason of organized team activities and minicamp practices, the Vikings would have the ability to get Kalil accustomed to the speed of the NFL's best defensive linemen – and the Vikings have the 2011 sacks leader in Jared Allen – before moving Johnson inside, presumably to left guard. Like Herrera, Johnson has 70 NFL starts and was reportedly being considered for a move inside if he had re-signed with the Indianapolis Colts last year.

At right guard, Geoff Schwartz could keep the Vikings' desire to get young intact while also offering them NFL experience. Schwartz, signed as a free agent last week, started 19 of 32 games played with the Carolina Panthers at right tackle and right guard.

Another possibility is center-guard Joe Berger, who started four games at right guard, one at center and two at left guard for the Vikings last year and played in almost 48 percent of the offensive snaps.

The most likely starting offensive line by September seems to be Kalil (if drafted by the Vikings) at left tackle, Johnson at left guard, Sullivan at center, Schwartz at right guard and Loadholt at right tackle. But even that more experienced combination than the one Frazier named Wednesday offers quite a contrast to the one that started out the 2011 season for the Vikings.

Gone are Hutchinson and Herrera, their combined 227 career NFL starts and their combined $10.583 million cap figure. They could be replaced by the 99 career starts between Johnson and Schwartz and their cap figures, which are essentially a combined half of what Hutchinson and Herrera would have cost.

Also, in the course of one season, Sullivan went from the lowest paid starting offensive lineman on the team – scheduled to have a cap number of $624,000 in 2011 – to the highest this season after all the moves. With his extension in December, his cap number moved to $1.624 million in 2011 and is scheduled to jump to $4 million this year.

Despite all the different parts, Sullivan believes the offensive line will be better in 2012.

"Working throughout the entire offseason is going to help a lot. (Last year) was a lockout year. I think we run-blocked well a year ago; I'm just going to come out and say that. I don't think the run-blocking was poor. I think we improved in pass blocking throughout the season," Sullivan said during an interview on KFAN earlier this week. "I think the offensive line goes as the offense goes. I understand that statement can go both ways. Christian (Ponder) throughout this offseason will be so much better about where he's going with the football. We'll be more on the same page about how to pick up blitzes that you'll see an improvement throughout. … It's going to be a better unit across the board. I have no doubt about that."

Sullivan echoed a theme that has been about six months running – the players like what they see from offensive line coach Jeff Davidson and his approach to the game. Having played offensive line at the NFL level doesn't hurt Davidson's credentials among his players.

"In coaching there's always an ideal way to do things, but it's not always feasible. It doesn't make sense. It's not going to happen. The reactions aren't quick enough. Or you say we'll get to this guy but you can't," Sullivan said, who said Davidson's straightforward approach worked well with him last year after a trying 2010 season, both professionally and personally.

No matter who ends up starting on the Vikings offensive line this year, one thing is certain: It will be a modified, younger and less expensive cast.


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":"In an apparent nod toward youth, Leslie Frazier laid out an interesting hypothetical to reporters Wednesday at the NFL owners meetings. If the season started tomorrow, Frazier said his starting offensive line would be Charlie Johnson at left tackle, Chris DeGeare at left guard, John Sullivan at center, Brandon Fusco at right guard and Phil Loadholt at right tackle, according to 1500 ESPN. While that's an extremely unlikely scenario given the more veteran options the Vikings have, it would be a shift that shows just how young the Vikings have gotten in a hurry, especially at the guard position. They released former Pro Bowl guard Steve Hutchinson and his 157 career starts. If Frazier's late March depth chart would last until the regular season, DeGeare, who was on the practice squad last year but started five games in his 2010 rookie season, would replace Hutchinson. On the right side, Anthony Herrera had started 70 games for the Vikings over his eight-year career. But Frazier's projection of Fusco would replace those 70 starts with zero. Last year, Fusco played in only three games and got in for only 24 offensive snaps. Realistically, Frazier's late March depth chart won't look even close to the mid-September version. Frazier also told reporters last year's left tackle, Charlie Johnson, would initially create competition at that same position, even if the Vikings drafted a tackle like Matt Kalil in the first round. But with a full offseason of organized team activities and minicamp practices, the Vikings would have the ability to get Kalil accustomed to the speed of the NFL's best defensive linemen – and the Vikings have the 2011 sacks leader in Jared Allen – before moving Johnson inside, presumably to left guard. Like Herrera, Johnson has 70 NFL starts and was reportedly being considered for a move inside if he had re-signed with the Indianapolis Colts last year. At right guard, Geoff Schwartz could keep the Vikings' desire to get young intact while also offering them NFL experience. Schwartz, signed as a free agent last week, started 19 of 32 games played with the Carolina Panthers at right tackle and right guard. Another possibility is center-guard Joe Berger, who started four games at right guard, one at center and two at left guard for the Vikings last year and played in almost 48 percent of the offensive snaps. The most likely starting offensive line by September seems to be Kalil (if drafted by the Vikings) at left tackle, Johnson at left guard, Sullivan at center, Schwartz at right guard and Loadholt at right tackle. But even that more experienced combination than the one Frazier named Wednesday offers quite a contrast to the one that started out the 2011 season for the Vikings. Gone are Hutchinson and Herrera, their combined 227 career NFL starts and their combined $10.583 million cap figure. They could be replaced by the 99 career starts between Johnson and Schwartz and their cap figures, which are essentially a combined half of what Hutchinson and Herrera would have cost. Also, in the course of one season, Sullivan went from the lowest paid starting offensive lineman on the team – scheduled to have a cap number of $624,000 in 2011 – to the highest this season after all the moves. With his extension in December, his cap number moved to $1.624 million in 2011 and is scheduled to jump to $4 million this year. Despite all the different parts, Sullivan believes the offensive line will be better in 2012. \"Working throughout the entire offseason is going to help a lot. (Last year) was a lockout year. I think we run-blocked well a year ago; I'm just going to come out and say that. I don't think the run-blocking was poor. I think we improved in pass blocking throughout the season,\" Sullivan said during an interview on KFAN earlier this week. \"I think the offensive line goes as the offense goes. I understand that statement can go both ways. Christian (Ponder) throughout this offseason will be so much better about where he's going with the football. We'll be more on the same page about how to pick up blitzes that you'll see an improvement throughout. … It's going to be a better unit across the board. I have no doubt about that.\" Sullivan echoed a theme that has been about six months running – the players like what they see from offensive line coach Jeff Davidson and his approach to the game. Having played offensive line at the NFL level doesn't hurt Davidson's credentials among his players. \"In coaching there's always an ideal way to do things, but it's not always feasible. It doesn't make sense. It's not going to happen. The reactions aren't quick enough. Or you say we'll get to this guy but you can't,\" Sullivan said, who said Davidson's straightforward approach worked well with him last year after a trying 2010 season, both professionally and personally. No matter who ends up starting on the Vikings offensive line this year, one thing is certain: It will be a modified, younger and less expensive cast. 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