One of the big issues with the Minnesota Vikings offensive line last year had to do with communication, identifying and passing off blitzes and stunts.
For that reason, going against a Cincinnati Bengals defense this week provides some good prep work for the regular-season games that will start in one month. The Bengals, similar to the Vikings, like to show and disguise where the intended pressure on the quarterback might be coming from.
“They ran a bunch of blitzes our offensive line hasn’t seen so we had to work on the fly to get things corrected. The coverages are going to be a little bit different, so are the disguises that they’ll do,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “Even though it’s been two physical days, it’s a lot of mental work as well. You know they run a couple of plays that we haven’t seen offensively or defensively. All those things teaches the players how to react in game-like situations.”
Although Zimmer surely knows plenty about the Bengals’ style of defense – they have carried over many of the same concepts he had as defensive coordinator there – the Vikings didn’t scout the Bengals. That actually could help the Vikings when it comes to making in-game adjustments on the fly during the regular season.
It also likely gave them a better feel for the disguises and blitzes coming when games count, rather than the often bland and basic stylings of the preseason.
Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said as much, but felt his revamped offensive line did a good job reacting the Bengals’ action.
“I didn’t feel like they were up-and-down. I think those guys are doing a great job of, like I said, adjusting to different looks that we haven’t seen,” Bridgewater said of his offensive line. “… Our guys did a great job of just adjusting on the fly. Those guys work extremely hard. Coach (Tony) Sparano, he challenges those guys; he pushes those guys. We’re going to have a great room, a bunch of great leaders in that room. Those guys want to be the best at what they do.”
The Vikings have a different look to their offensive line this year. Right tackle Phil Loadholt, who missed the entire 2015 season with an Achilles injury, retired last month. His replacement last year, T.J. Clemmings, is expected to fill a backup role at both tackle spots. Former Bengals right tackle Andre Smith is now assuming the same position with the Vikings after signing a free-agent deal, and the Vikings acquired left guard Alex Boone in free agency, a move that sent Brandon Fusco back to right guard, where he says he feels more comfortable.
Zimmer didn’t want to tip his hand for how he will handle the starting offensive line in Friday night’s preseason opener against the Bengals.
[FOR RECENT VIDEOS, CLICK HERE]
However, Fusco might not play in Friday’s preseason opener against the Bengals, further complicating the lineup of offensive linemen. That means Joe Berger, who filled in for the injured John Sullivan last year at center, could be starting at right guard. And that move would put Sullivan back in the starting lineup at center after battling with Berger for that spot on a rotating basis throughout training camp.
Zimmer said he learned “a little bit” about his offensive line during the two days of practices against Cincinnati.
“I’m happy with our guys. I like the way they work,” Zimmer said.
“(The Bengals) have got a pretty good defensive line. We’re continuing to progress. We did some good things and there’s some things we have to work on.”
“We’ll keep looking. We’re going to probably move a few guys around next week and look at some other combinations,” Zimmer said. “I have to see all these different (combinations), because when we start getting in the season, we dress seven offensive linemen. I’ve got to see who can play guard and who can play tackle, who can play left, who can play right. So, we need to start moving some guys around a little bit.”
- Zimmer wouldn’t divulge how much, if any, Bridgewater will play in the preseason opener – it’s likely just one or two series, if recent history is an indicator – saying it would depend on his mood.
- Another benefit of practicing against the Bengals: giving Adrian Peterson a different defense to face, even if they weren’t tackling him to the ground. “They were thumping him pretty good. They were swiping at the ball,” Zimmer said. “So, yeah, I thought it was good.”
- CB Trae Waynes returned to practice Thursday after succumbing to the heat and humidity on Wednesday. “We did like 800 special teams sprints before practice, and then we went some one-on-one,” Zimmer said. “So, he just, yeah, got some heat.”