A year ago, of all the questions that the 2016 Minnesota Vikings were facing, one of the primary concerns was the offensive line. Having lost center John Sullivan and right tackle Phil Loadholt, the team had a question at left guard, where Charlie Johnson was allowed to leave and right guard Brandon Fusco was shifted.
By his own admission, Fusco wasn’t pleased with his performance on the left side. He struggled with doing everything backwards from what he had done to start his career on the right side and is more than welcome to getting moved back to right guard after the signing of veteran Alex Boone.
“Right now I think the plan is for me to move back to the right side,” Fusco said. “That’s where I feel at home at and more comfortable at, so that’s the plan. If they want me to stay on the left side, I’m fine with that. But right guard is where I would like to play and I think it’s where they would like me to play, too.”
Fusco wasn’t awful on the left side, but had become a more dominant run blocker on the right side, enough that the Vikings signed him to a contract extension to lock him down for five more years in purple and gold.
He had earned his extension, but at times last season didn’t feel he was earning his money the way he should be.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/vikings/story/1676386-kalil-s-prove-it-year-a-g... “I wasn’t happy,” Fusco said. “I give myself a hard time when I don’t think I’m playing at the level I should be and there were times I got frustrated with myself because I wasn’t making the plays I should and know I can. I’m pretty hard on myself and I gave myself reason to be hard on myself last year.”
Some may have viewed the signing of Boone in free agency as an indictment of Fusco’s play. Although he struggled at left guard in 2015, offensive coordinator Norv Turner saw what he could do at right guard in 2014 when the Vikings were without Adrian Peterson.
As a result, the play at both guard spots could be improved by the signing of Boone. A natural left guard, Boone could be an upgrade over what Fusco provided at left guard and, moving back to his natural position, Fusco welcomes returning home to where he feels much more comfortable.
“I’m looking forward to the chance to move back to the right side if that’s what they decide,” Fusco said. “I just want to get back to being the player I was. I didn’t have the best season last year because I didn’t adjust well to the change. The coaches want me to be what I was a couple of years ago at right guard and I want the same thing, so I’m excited about the possibilities.”
What made Fusco’s transfer to the left side of the line worse was that he was coming off a significant pectoral injury that he suffered in Week 3 of the 2014 season and required surgery.
He not only had to make a mirror-switch in his work assignment, he was doing it at less than 100 percent during the offseason program. He found himself behind the curve and never fully caught up until late in the season.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/vikings/story/1669803-subscribe-today-member-be... “Having a full offseason this year and not spending all of it rehabbing has made a big difference for me,” Fusco said. “A lot of times, your season is based on how your offseason went. I had a really good offseason this year because I was back to full strength. Last year, I’m working out with 25-pound dumbbells because that was all I could do while my injury was healing. This year, I’m doing up to 150. I feel in better shape and with better strength, so I’m glad where I’m at right now.”
Not only is Fusco’s workout regimen different, so is the coach he answers to. In the offseason, the Vikings hired for Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano to coach the offensive line. Sparano has been compared to his typographical error Tony Soprano, the fictional New Jersey mob boss who didn’t take a lot of guff from anyone and had a high standard for his underlings.
Fusco said he has shown the proper deference to Sparano because, while he can be a coach who encourages players, there is a something to him that scares players a little bit to give him their best.
“He’s a different guy,” Fusco said. “He’s very hard-nosed. How you earn respect from him is how your work ethic is out on the field. If you come to work every day with a chip on your shoulder, you’re aggressive and have an attitude to you, I think that’s what gets his respect, because that’s what he’s looking for in all of us.”
For a lot of players, being shifted out of their position from the previous season would be viewed as a demotion or having the potential of losing his job. In Fusco’s case, it could be the best thing that happened both to him and the Vikings offensive line.
He isn’t nervous about losing his starting job. He’s encouraged about coming home to his natural spot and getting his career path back on track.
“It’s not like I wasn’t confident playing on the left side,” Fusco said. “But I was more comfortable on the right side because I have played there for so long. Getting back there for me will be like riding a bicycle. Once I get back there and working, it will all come back to me quickly and I’m looking to do big things for our offensive line and show everybody that I can play at a high level.”