Despite starting only 12 games last year, Teddy Bridgewater finished seventh for most sacks in the NFL with 39. That’s one reason a strong protection plan will be imminent for the Minnesota Vikings Monday night against the San Francisco 49ers.
In front of Bridgewater will be an offensive line that is the biggest question mark for the Vikings this year. Only one starter, much-maligned left tackle Matt Kalil, returns to his starting position from last year.
The Vikings already lost Phil Loadholt for the season with a torn Achilles tendon in Week 2 of the preseason. Now starting center John Sullivan will miss at least the first eight games of the season following back surgery, ensuring that the Vikings will miss at least 22 starts from their expected starting offensive line.
Brandon Fusco moved from right guard to left guard, which should help Kalil and provide a sound foundation on the left side of the line. But veteran Joe Berger will responsible for making the protection calls in place of Sullivan, with Mike Harris, who hasn’t started a game at guard, next to him. Flanking Harris on the right side is rookie tackle T.J. Clemmings.
It all adds up to uncertainty up front.
As strong as the 49ers were on defense last year, finishing fifth in overall defense, they were tied for 21st in the league with 36 sacks, and now they have a largely retooled defense with retirements and free-agent defections affecting them more than any other unit in the NFL.
Can the Vikings protect Bridgewater, who has said one of his main goals was to get the ball out of his hand quicker this year, and open running lanes in Adrian Peterson’s return to football after more than a year away? All eyes will be on the offensive line late Monday night, for good reason.