Fusco handling adjustments in year of change

Brandon Fusco has learned a lot over the last 13 months and is in position to claim a starting job as an NFL guard. That's a big move for a center from Division II Slippery Rock, a school that had never had a player invited to the NFL Scouting Combine or Senior Bowl before he was.

Despite starting all the Vikings' preseason games to date and taking the vast majority of the first-team snaps in practice, head coach Leslie Frazier and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave aren't ready to crown Brandon Fusco the starter.

That's fine by the blue-collar offensive lineman who made the switch from a starting center at Slippery Rock to guard with the Vikings over the course of one season.

"There are guys on this team that could easily come up right now – Joe (Berger), Chris (DeGeare) – there are a bunch of guys on this roster that could easily come up and start at this right guard spot," Fusco said. "It's my job to lose right now and it's how I compete each day and keep getting better."

Fusco was expected to be pushed for the starting job by free-agent acquisition Geoff Schwartz, but when Schwartz needed sports hernia surgery during training camp, it essentially took him out of the competition and put Fusco firmly in the driver's seat.

There are other options, like second-year pro DeMarcus Love, who could play guard or tackle, but Love was also sidelined with a shoulder injury during training camp.

"You don't want it to be (a starter by) default," Frazier said of Fusco's situation. "You want to keep putting him in situations to see how he handles things and then make a determination: Is this the best thing for the team? He has done a good job so far, but he has a limited amount of experience so we want to keep giving him more and see how he responds."

Already, Fusco feels like he has learned a lot in a year. At the beginning of last July, he was waiting for the NFL lockout to end and so he could start getting NFL coaching. He began making the transition to guard during the season and the learning curve has been in full force now for about 13 months.

"Just my knowledge of football and the different schemes and blitz pickups and all that stuff, I really struggled with that stuff last year and Sully (John Sullivan) and Phil (Loadholt) have been helping me along the way," Fusco said. "I'm not where I want to be yet, but I feel like I've progressed a whole bunch from last year and this whole offseason.

"I'm not going to say I'm a newbie out here. I know what I'm doing. I've just got some things I've got to fix up and clean up a little bit before the season starts and I'll be fine. I've got all the confidence in the world."

The biggest challenge for Fusco might be not getting too aggressive. His tendency has been to lean and get off-balance instead of using his feet and hands to ward off a defender.

He will start once again on Friday night against the San Diego Chargers in an effort to build continuity on an offensive line that has seen a lot of turnover with the offseason releases of aging veterans Steve Hutchinson and Anthony Herrera.

"(Fusco) will be with the first unit and we will see how he handles it," Frazier said. "Part of what we are trying to do is that you want that unity on that offensive line. That is part of a successful offensive line if they can play together, practice together, and be around each other."

Fusco played in three games last year, but didn't make a start despite injuries that caused Hutchinson and Herrera to miss a combined six starts. He played in only 24 snaps, less than 3 percent of the offensive plays.

Despite that inexperience, the Vikings will be relying on him to handle with the week-to-week change in game plans. This preseason has been a good test run to measure his adaptability.

The Vikings started out with the San Francisco 49ers and their 3-4 defensive front. Last week it was the Buffalo Bills, who played a 4-3 front. On Friday, it will be the San Diego Chargers and back to a 3-4 front.

The difference is big for Fusco. With a four-man defensive line, he will usually have a defensive tackle lined up across from him. Facing a 3-4 is easier on the guards and puts more immediate pressure on center John Sullivan to handle the initial surge of a big nose tackle playing directly over him.

"Every defense has got their own kind of way, but it's a little different," Fusco said. "Yeah, it's a little difficult, but you adjust."

It's been a year-plus of big adjustments for Fusco, but to this point he taken them all on with aplomb.


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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There are other options, like second-year pro DeMarcus Love, who could play guard or tackle, but Love was also sidelined with a shoulder injury during training camp. \"You don't want it to be (a starter by) default,\" Frazier said of Fusco's situation. \"You want to keep putting him in situations to see how he handles things and then make a determination: Is this the best thing for the team? He has done a good job so far, but he has a limited amount of experience so we want to keep giving him more and see how he responds.\" Already, Fusco feels like he has learned a lot in a year. At the beginning of last July, he was waiting for the NFL lockout to end and so he could start getting NFL coaching. He began making the transition to guard during the season and the learning curve has been in full force now for about 13 months. \"Just my knowledge of football and the different schemes and blitz pickups and all that stuff, I really struggled with that stuff last year and Sully (John Sullivan) and Phil (Loadholt) have been helping me along the way,\" Fusco said. \"I'm not where I want to be yet, but I feel like I've progressed a whole bunch from last year and this whole offseason. \"I'm not going to say I'm a newbie out here. I know what I'm doing. I've just got some things I've got to fix up and clean up a little bit before the season starts and I'll be fine. I've got all the confidence in the world.\" The biggest challenge for Fusco might be not getting too aggressive. His tendency has been to lean and get off-balance instead of using his feet and hands to ward off a defender. He will start once again on Friday night against the San Diego Chargers in an effort to build continuity on an offensive line that has seen a lot of turnover with the offseason releases of aging veterans Steve Hutchinson and Anthony Herrera. \"(Fusco) will be with the first unit and we will see how he handles it,\" Frazier said. \"Part of what we are trying to do is that you want that unity on that offensive line. That is part of a successful offensive line if they can play together, practice together, and be around each other.\" Fusco played in three games last year, but didn't make a start despite injuries that caused Hutchinson and Herrera to miss a combined six starts. He played in only 24 snaps, less than 3 percent of the offensive plays. Despite that inexperience, the Vikings will be relying on him to handle with the week-to-week change in game plans. This preseason has been a good test run to measure his adaptability. The Vikings started out with the San Francisco 49ers and their 3-4 defensive front. Last week it was the Buffalo Bills, who played a 4-3 front. On Friday, it will be the San Diego Chargers and back to a 3-4 front. The difference is big for Fusco. With a four-man defensive line, he will usually have a defensive tackle lined up across from him. Facing a 3-4 is easier on the guards and puts more immediate pressure on center John Sullivan to handle the initial surge of a big nose tackle playing directly over him. \"Every defense has got their own kind of way, but it's a little different,\" Fusco said. \"Yeah, it's a little difficult, but you adjust.\" It's been a year-plus of big adjustments for Fusco, but to this point he taken them all on with aplomb. 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