A college left tackle at Western Michigan, Beavers was asked to play guard at the Senior at the request of several teams, who felt he would need to transition to guard to make the jump to the NFL. Considering that most fourth-round picks are expected to make a final 53-man roster barring injury, it would seem clear that the Vikings have plans for Beavers for the 2016 season, but it further muddies the water for the glut of players along the offensive line for players that have been part of the Vikings game plan.
The Vikings returned 14 players from the 2015 team along the offensive line. Typically a team keeps 10 offensive linemen on the roster – five starters and five backups. But, in the event there are players at other positions that the team fears losing during the cut-down period, some teams will keep nine O-linemen if they have swingmen capable of playing more than one position. The Vikings are loaded with those players, presumably including Beavers on that list, as he was projected as both a right tackle and a guard in the pre-draft process.
“With Beavers you throw on the Ohio State game and you throw on the Michigan State game, the kid played very well at left tackle,” Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said. “Then we went down there and watched him at the Senior Bowl. He played some tackle and they moved him inside to guard. I know Tony Sparano gave us some specifics that we need to look for at that position, and it’s size, it’s strength, and what he calls the ability to dent people when you hit them. This kid has the size, strength and ability to dent people because you’ve seen him do it when he’s playing against Big Ten competition. Technically he’s not all there yet, but it is those type of guys that have his traits that are the guys that our coaches really want to work with.”
At tackle, the Vikings currently sit with seven players that are being viewed initially at that position. In 2015, Matt Kalil started every game at left tackle and T.J. Clemmings started all 16 games on the right side. Head coach Mike Zimmer said in a Sirius XM Radio interview that he intends to move Clemmings to the backup left tackle spot, but that doesn’t answer the question of who will stay or who will go at the tackle spots.
Former starter Phil Loadholt is the incumbent right tackle, but, after missing the last 22 games due to injury, his spot on the roster not guaranteed. He accepted a pay cut prior to the start of free agency, which can be read into as accepting a deal to avoid being cut outright – you don’t ask a player to take a cut in pay without the threat of a release. Veteran Andre Smith was signed in free agency to provide competition for the starting job and young players Austin Shepherd, Carter Bykowski and Jeremiah Sirles are all prospects the Vikings were intrigued with to keep on the roster last season with the potential of staying with the team long-term. Seven tackles are on the roster now. More than likely only four will survive the final cuts.
At guard and center, it gets a little trickier. Brandon Fusco and Alex Boone are projected (at this point) to be the starters. Both were signed to long-term contracts and, given Fusco’s experience on both the left side and right side, he could be subject to playing either spot. Boone was the highest paid outside free agent the Vikings brought in, so it would seem fairly obvious that the team has long-term plans for him, with the ability to plug him in on either side of the line. The plan for now is Boone on the left side with Fusco moving back to the right side.
Beyond those two, there is competition between Beavers, who likely will get a rookie pass to the 53-man roster, Mike Harris and Zac Kerin. Harris has been a valuable swingman during the Vikings’ O-line injury woes. When Loadholt went down with a pectoral injury in 2014, Harris stepped in and finished out the season at right tackle. When Fusco was moved to the left side of the line in 2015 to replace the departed Charlie Johnson, Harris took Fusco’s vacated right guard spot, where he started all 16 games.
There may even be question marks at center. John Sullivan has been a quality starter, but when he went down with a back injury in the 2015 preseason, veteran Joe Berger replaced him and played at a very high level – earning high weekly grades for efficiency at center. Berger can also play guard, which, if offensive line coach Tony Sparano has a good feel for youngster Nick Easton, could give the line even more position flexibility to mix and match the positional depth chart as to who stays and who goes.
In the big picture of things in the NFL, offensive linemen are largely anonymous. When they’re doing their jobs right, they go largely unnoticed. But the Vikings are going to have their O-line in the spotlight in the coming weeks and months because with the hiring of Sparano, any good will that had been engendered by the players who have been with the organization for a while is completely out the window.
There will be a fresh set of eyes on the Vikings offensive linemen and, when all is said and done at the end of the preseason, it will be the nine or 10 players that Sparano and the offensive coaching staff believe give the Vikings the best chance to win – short-term and long-term – that will end up on the roster. There are going to be casualties and they made include a big name or two before the Vikings settle on the final 53 for 2016.