A year ago when the Vikings started the regular season, one of the biggest question marks was how the offensive line was going to mesh. With new players at three positions – left tackle and both guard spots – there were concerns over how the new-look alignment would perform. The only starters returning to their 2011 positions were center John Sullivan and right tackle Phil Loadholt.
One of the clearest signs of whether an offense is successful is whether the offensive line is consistent and playing together as a unit. Last year, the five starting offensive linemen for the Vikings played all 16 games as a group and all five are back and ready to put together another season as a unit of five. They are one of only three teams to return all five starters, according to the Vikings.
Sullivan believes that the cohesiveness of the Vikings offensive line developed during the 2012 season and that the ability of the group to continue their growth in 2013 is one of the bigger positives as the Vikings look to get back to the playoffs and make a deeper run. However, they can't rest on their laurels and assume that the chemistry they built in 2012 will automatically carry over to this season.
"There's a lot more continuity having our whole offensive line remain intact from last season," Sullivan said. "It's a new season, so we have to go out and practice hard and keep communicating with each other. But I would say it's a lot easier having that familiarity that we didn't have initially last season."
Continuity has become a buzz-word among the offensive linemen. They didn't have much of it when last season began, but it's the cornerstone of the unit's goals for this season.
"Continuity is important," Sullivan said. "Obviously, the more experience you have with each other the more you can rely on a guy and anticipate what he's going to do. But we can't just take that for granted. We need to go out and practice, work on those things, communicate with each other and try to keep building that camaraderie."
The O-line will get what may be its stiffest test of the season against the Detroit Lions Sunday. The Lions have invested three first-round picks in the defensive line, headlined by disruptive defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. But, as he has been studying the Lions on film and from his own experience, Sullivan knows that, while Suh is the headliner of the Detroit defensive front, he far from the only component of a line that could be dominant for years to come.
"Suh is a great player – he's very strong and has a strong bull rush – but it's not just him," Sullivan said. "Nick Fairley is playing very well. (Rookie Ziggy) Ansah looks like he's very talented. They just have a great defense, especially along the defensive front. It's going to be a big challenge for us this week, but we're going to go out and do what we do. We'll be up to it."
If the Vikings are going to make a return run to the playoffs, it is generally conceded that, on the offensive side of the ball, it's going to be the offensive line opening holes for Adrian Peterson. At a time when quarterbacks are dominating the game, the Vikings are a throwback due in large part to having the game's best running back. For A.D. to be successful, the offensive line has to be successful, and if Peterson is going to replicate his amazing 2012 season, it will be on the backs of his plow horses up front.
"We know our identity," Sullivan said. "We know what we're trying to be out there. Today we're just focusing on our practice – what have going in (the game plan) today. We're not looking at the big picture yet, it's what is going to help us win this game. Nobody is thinking about rushing yardage or any of those things. It's execution. We're just going out and trying to execute and win the game."
Of all the reasons the Vikings have to be optimistic heading into 2013, perhaps the most important are the guys who are noticed the least – an offensive line that is healthy and ready to plow the road for the offense and hoping to become a returning playoff team.
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.
Vikings building rare continuity on O-line
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