Contrary to popular belief, the Vikings still have a season to get on with and have 53 players on the roster looking to get a win in New Orleans Sunday. One player who is looking to make an eventual impact is guard David Yankey, who, as things currently stand, is in “next man up” mode.
Yankey, a player who graded out as a second-round talent according to many media analysts, was viewed as a steal when the Vikings drafted him in the fifth round. However, due to academic policies in the Pac 12 Conference, he was required to stay at Stanford in May and missed out on OTAs and minicamps, where young players typically make their first impressions on the coaching staff and begin to absorb the playbook.
While he continued to work out in California while away from his teammates, by his own admission Yankey didn’t show up to training camp in Mankato in ideal shape and, worse for him, he was behind in learning the playbook and his role within the offense.
“From the conditioning perspective, I felt good coming in – not great, but good,” Yankey said. “It was just learning the offense. Offensive line is such a technical position, making sure that you really learn all the techniques and work with the guys. That’s the part you have to catch up on – that and learning the playbook. Coming into camp, I felt I did a decent job of doing that and perfecting the techniques I needed to learn.”
Initially thought to be in a position battle with incumbent Charlie Johnson, Yankey never seriously threatened Johnson’s starting position. Asked when he thought he was caught up with the rest of his teammates, Yankey said it wasn’t until the Vikings actually started playing games.
“Sometime during training camp,” Yankey said. “I had some catching up to do on the conditioning side. Once you’re playing in the preseason games, you feel a lot better, but you can always continue to improve. But I’m not sure if you ever completely feel like you’re there as far as getting up to speed, but you just look to get better from one day to the next.”
Despite being fully caught up in terms of knowing his positional assignments and being in game-ready shape, his most daunting challenge has been and will continue to be cracking a veteran starting offensive line that has been together for the last two full seasons and into its third as a unit.
He may be ready to move from the sidelines to the spotlight, but, barring injury to a starter, he likely will remain watching from a distance instead of being in the thick of the action.
“Especially here, we’ve got a very good offensive line that has been together for a couple of years,” Yankey said. “The guys are really good across the board and most of them are veterans who have been in the league six, seven, eight years. They’ve played together long enough that they know how to play off one another and they do a really good job week in and week out in part because of that familiarity.”
The intuitive rapport that the starters have built is something Yankey hasn’t had the opportunity to be involved in. He hasn’t lined up in between Matt Kalil and John Sullivan in a game since he joined the team, but the Vikings make a point of having all their linemen – starters and reserves alike – go through identical technique assignments so that, in the event that an injury pushes Yankey up with the first-team offense, he can hit the ground running.
“I haven’t played much with those guys, but we try to make things as similar at all levels so if I do come in with the ones (starters), I’ll be ready to go,” Yankey said. “We try to work our techniques just like the starters do so we are ready if anything happens.”
During practice, Yankey has been working at both left guard and left tackle. The coaching staff made the decision that, as long as he is a reserve and not a starter, he will do all of his work on the left side of the line so he can perfect his technique there rather than flip-flopping from the left to right side.
While not an impossible transition, it’s more difficult than it might appear to simply move from one side of the line to the other, because it’s like looking at a mirror image. Everything is the opposite of what he is used to and the technique changes markedly, which is why most guards stick at one side of the line and rarely make the move to the other unless they’re veterans who have learned how to master their technique.
“Any time you’re switching up your stance and your stagger, it’s going to be different being on the left side or the right side,” Yankey said. “The mental part of it is different because it’s very different from what you do on the left side when you go to the right side. You’re techniques are all reversed. They’ve been working me on the left side exclusively to let me get all of those techniques down without having to switch to the other side.”
For now, the Vikings are stashing Yankey on the roster. While he isn’t starting, he is gaining the knowledge he needs that, when and if he becomes the next man up and enters the starting lineup, he’s going to have all the preparation he needs to make sure that the Vikings offensive line remains a strength of the team and not a weakness.
“Once you’re in game weeks and you get to really get into a game plan and understand it, it makes it lot easier to take it all in,” Yankey said. “I think I’ve come a long way since the start of training camp and, at this point, my focus is on trying to perfect my techniques on the left side, and if the time comes when I get called on to go in I’ll be ready and I’ll be able to help keep our offensive line as strong as it can be.”
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 guard Yankey waiting in the wings
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