Monday’s announcement that John Sullivan had a setback in his recovery and will almost surely miss the remainder of the season due to having a second surgery has to be seen as a blow to the Vikings. Not simply because Sullivan is a solid center and the leader of the offensive line, it all but ruins any flexibility the Vikings potentially would have had along the offensive line the rest of the way.
When the Vikings entered training camp, they did so knowing that there was going to be some shuffling along the O-line. They allowed 2014 starting left guard Charlie Johnson to leave via free agency and didn’t make any free agent or premium draft moves to replace him.
The reason? Joe Berger and Mike Harris were initially expected to be implements in the O-line Swiss Army knife for the Vikings. Berger could play center or either guard spot. Harris could play guard or tackle. The initial plan was for neither to be a starter – much less taking every snap with the offense through six games.
Now the Vikings have to hope Berger and Harris take every snap.
Under the initial depth chart plan, the Vikings were set before Day 1 of the offseason workouts at three positions – left tackle, center and right tackle, better known as Matt Kalil, Sullivan and Phil Loadholt.
They also knew that Brandon Fusco was set at one of the guard spots – left guard if the Vikings hadn’t made any offseason moves to replace Johnson or back to right guard, where he earned the second contract that is setting up his family for life.
That was the plan.
As plans often do, things went awry. Sometimes, horribly awry.
Plan A for the offensive line was to answer the guard question by make Fusco the Oreo filling between Kalil and Sullivan. The right guard spot was going to be up for grabs with rookie T.J. Clemmings having the inside track for the job.
That plan got scuttled pretty fast. Harris, who replaced Loadholt at right tackle last year when he went down with a pectoral injury, took over at right guard for 2015.
Plan B had Berger competing with Harris at right guard and Clemmings learning from Loadholt.
Then Loadholt went down.
Next man up.
Because the Clemmings experiment at guard had been scuttled, the next man up wasn’t Harris, who had replaced Loadholt last season at right tackle. Harris was predisposed as the Plan B starter at right guard. It was Clemmings who got the call to duty at right tackle.
Plan C got invoked when Sullivan went down with a back injury. At the time, there was the possibility that, if Clemmings struggled, Harris could bounced back to right tackle and Berger could step in at right guard. When Sully went down, Plan C became modified.
With the hope that Sullivan would come back, the options the Vikings had along the O-line were back to being within their control. With Sully taking his spot back, Berger would be the immediate odd-man out … but not necessarily taking a breather.
Had Sullivan not suffered a setback, the Vikings had a potential two-pronged Plan D and Plan E – one that covers if Berger needed to replace Harris at guard or if Harris needed to move outside to right tackle to replace Clemmings.
Plans D and E are now gone, reverting to Plan C – which is currently Plan A.
Nobody wants to see Plan F.