The Minnesota Vikings have taken some heat in recent years for not spending any high draft picks on the offensive line, but they have now taken a lineman in the fourth round two years in a row. They drafted offensive tackle T.J. Clemmings in 2015 and then drafted Willie Beavers this year.
Beavers played offensive tackle at Western Michigan, but the Vikings coaching staff seems to view him as more of a guard, as that’s where he has been working throughout training camp. He has been working on both the right and left side of the line, mostly with the second-team offense, but he feels he can still play tackle if they ask that of him .
That position flexibility is going to go a long way for him because head coach Mike Zimmer likes to keep around guys that can play multiple positions. Players will get hurt during the season; it’s the unfortunate truth about the NFL, so it’s important to have that ability to move players around, especially when the roster gets narrowed down from 90 to 53.
“I think it’s very beneficial,” Beavers said of his flexibility. “I’m just coming out here, whether it’s guard or tackle, wherever they see me playing, I’m just coming out here and trying to do the best that I can.”
The Vikings brought in Tony Sparano this offseason to coach the offensive line. He is known as a tough coach that isn’t afraid to say what he thinks and he has already gotten on Beavers’ case a couple times during training camp.
One instance in particular, the offensive line was working on exploding out of the chute and engaging with a defender. Beavers wasn’t getting enough extension with his arms, so Sparano told him to quit hugging the guys. He even said if he ever needed a hug he was going to go find Beavers.
But the rookie seems to like that kind of coaching - the coach being hard on him. He said that everything is starting to slow down for him and he’s starting to pick up the schemes, plays and what is being asked of him much better. And it was Sparano that received a lot of the credit.
“I feel like I’m getting better,” he said. “Coach Tony, he’s done a really great job of helping me. I feel like I’m just coming out here every day, just trying to change my best.
“He’s an awesome coach. He’s great when it comes to techniques, that’s what he do. He’s just helped me slow the game down a little bit for me because he’s such a smart coach and he’s been a head coach. He’s just so smart, he’s really helping me.”
Beavers has also been using the veteran players along the line as much as possible. There are players with years of experience all around him, like Brandon Fusco, Joe Berger, John Sullivan, Alex Boone and Andre Smith, and Beavers has been asking them for advice whenever he gets a chance.
He is coming into a situation in which he is not expected to get any playing time, barring any injuries to the starters, so he is able to sit back and learn from the players in front of him.
“All those guys are excellent, I love those guys,” Beavers said. “They’re like brothers to me already. They just correct me on it, stay after practice with me and work on me, and just get me better.”
The Vikings originally drafted Beavers because of the athleticism he possesses along the offensive line, and that is one thing that has stood out to offensive coordinator Norv Turner during training camp. Beavers still makes mistakes that leave the coaches scratching their heads from time to time, but that is typical of a rookie. Overall, though, it sounds like he has been having a good offseason.
“I think he is having a really good camp and a typical rookie camp,” Turner said. “He shows his athleticism, his physical presence when he does things right, and he knows exactly what he is doing. He has been really good. And then it’s like I have said, rookies, there are times that they aren’t sure; there are times things run together and you don’t have the type of performance you’d like. But he has shown he can develop into a really fine offensive lineman.”
At this point in time it seems as though Beavers will make the team. He has performed well in camp, he was a fourth-round draft pick and he has the flexibility to play multiple positions - all things working in his favor. It may be a couple years before he sees the field as a starter, but the coaching staff seems to be excited with what they have to work with in him.