For the last month, the players have worked to make themselves a cohesive unit – despite a 60 percent new component. Teams that progress to the playoffs and the Super Bowl tend to have one commonality – an offensive line that is seamless. More times than not, when you check the stat line on the generally stat-less O-linemen, there is a lot of this: 16/16 – 16 games, 16 starts.
The Vikings are raw and inexperienced together, but getting the 16/16 line item is something they're looking for. Running backs can be replaced. Wide receivers can be replaced. Offensive lineman are a 1,500-pound mass that works as one to impose the will of the offense. Loadholt said there is renewed enthusiasm about the young, evolving Vikings offense and getting a fresh start Sunday brings with it an air of energy.
"There always excitement when you start it out," Loadholt said. "It's a long journey and this is our first step forward. You're always excited about the opener and having it at home makes it that much better."
While Sunday will be a day of renewal, for veterans like Loadholt, it will also be the last time he has a giddy-up in his step. When linemen collide, it's tantamount to a head-on crash will a bulldozer, only about 70 times in three hours. Asked if Saturday would be the last time he and his O-line teammates would feel 100 percent, Loadholt shrugged and confessed.
"Pretty much," Loadholt said. "After Sunday, it's going to be about bringing yourself back. Nobody will be 100 percent from here on through. That's what makes football what it is. Usually, the next day is the worst. That's why so many guys get a workout in on Monday. You want to get rid of that pain and get everything back moving. You just keep it going from there."
The good thing about having a young offensive line is that they bounce back quicker than older linemen. They hurt the same, but the hurt goes away faster. While some may view the new-look Vikings O-line as a work in progress, Loadholt is convinced it will be a strength – the foundation under which the construction of the offense will be built.
"We've got some stability up front," Loadholt said. "I'm excited about us coming together as a unit. We put it all on us. We've got some good young guys who can definitely hold their own and some veteran leadership. We've got all the pieces. Now we just need to jell together and get better every game."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.