When he was head coach of the Vikings, Brad Childress would harp on the virtues of position flexibility – players who can play multiple positions at a high level. Every NFL team has at least one offensive lineman who fits the mold – a player who plays guard that can slide over to tackle in a pinch.
Vikings sixth-round draft pick Jeff Baca (6-foot-3, 302) is a position-flexibility dream pick, showing the ability to play guard and tackle in the Pac-12 and play at a high level at both.
One of Baca's primary strengths is his versatility. He made 45 career starts – 25 at guard (13 at left guard in 2009 and 12 at right guard in 2012) and 20 at tackle (19 at left tackle at one at right tackle). In UCLA's postseason bowl game, he played center, adding another piece to his versatility puzzle.
He is expected to be in competition for a guard spot on the roster – tackle would appear to be set with Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt manning the starting spots – but the guard position is more in flux. Neither Charlie Johnson nor Brandon Fusco are guaranteed starting jobs and Baca hopes to get himself into the mix with the potential of winning one of the starting spots.
"I haven't heard much from (the coaching staff) about what position I'll be playing, but I'm excited to come in and compete – the more I can do the better," Baca said. "I believe I can play all three positions along the offensive line. With proper coaching, I think that is something I could absolutely do."
He was a player that the Vikings clearly had an interest in the past few months. They met with Baca at the East-West Shrine Game in January, again at the NFL Scouting Combine in February and stayed in contact with him over the last month. It was likely his combine performance that tipped the scales in his favor.
His primary strength is his short-area agility and that was on full display in Indianapolis. He turned a lot of heads at the combine with the best time among offensive linemen in the three-cone drill (7.26 seconds) and tied for the top time in the 20-yard shuttle (4.44 seconds). He took pride in that achievement, showing that hard work paid off when the bright lights were turned on.
"With the amount of work that I put in doing those drills and getting coached up by prolific athletes, I do take pride in that," Baca said. "It showed off my ability to pull and redirect and hopefully that will translate to the field."
What his role is with the Vikings will be determined over the next several months, but Baca knows the value of a versatile swingman to an offensive line. So which does he think will be his primary line position?
"I really don't know," Baca said. "With great coaching, I have heard nothing but good things (about the Vikings coaches), and working on my technique I think I can excel at either position."
As the first offensive linemen the Vikings took in the 2013 draft, they may have found a way to acquire three picks in one 300-pound package.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Versatility is Baca's calling card
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