You can’t blame Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman Alex Boone for being a little confused at times these days. No, it’s not anything lingering from the concussion protocol. It’s just another week and another different offensive line combination being put on the field by the Vikings.
Boone was surrounded in a largely empty Vikings locker room – something that has become more commonplace as the Minnesota losing streak has been extended - by the local media and peppered with questions about the injury woes on the O-line.
He was asked if he felt the team is in a good place heading into Sunday’s game with Arizona and Boone started with a standard answer before interjecting some contradictory truth.
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“We’re fine – I mean, we’re not fine, we’ve lost four in a row,” Boone said. “But, we’re going to be fine. A lot of people are down (on us) right now, but that’s fine. As long as everyone in this locker room believes, we’re going to be fine.”
As things currently stand, the Vikings appear to be moving T.J. Clemmings back to left tackle, where he was initially moved following Matt Kalil’s season-ending injury (make no mistake, a hip injury of his severity is season-ending), before Jake Long showed up and Clemmings was shifted to right tackle.
Boone, looking to keep the O-line checker-jumping to a minimum, went to the coaching staff and offered to move to left tackle if the staff deemed it needed or productive. As it stands, the plan is to move Clemmings to left tackle and insert Jeremiah Sirles at right tackle, but Boone felt obligated as a veteran to throw out the option.
“We spoke about it and we’ll see what happens,” Boone said. “I’ve played (left tackle) before. I just feel like it would be an easier move for me than T.J., but, at the end of the day, it’s up to the coaches. They’re going to put the best five out there and I trust in them to do that. We’ll see how it goes.”
The biggest problem for the Vikings offensive line has been the lack on continuity. Injuries happen on the offensive line every year for every team, but few have been ravaged as completely as the Vikings have this season.
The Vikings lost Phil Loadholt to retirement in July and the hits just never stop coming. Mike Harris came down with a season-ending illness. Kalil went down with a hip. Then right tackle Andre Smith was lost to an elbow injury. Then Long tore an Achilles tendon.
The Vikings were the only team in the NFL to start the same five guys on the O-line for all 16 games last year. One game past the midway point of the season, the Vikings are leading the league in different O-line combinations – which is never a recipe for success.
“I think this the 10th offensive line change in 11 weeks, maybe the 11th,” Boone said. “It’s one of those things where we can’t me excuses. We can’t sit there and say, ‘This guy is new to me and this guy is new to me and I don’t know how he’s going to play.’ That just doesn’t jibe in this league anymore. It’s going to be on us as an offensive line to pick things up quick this week. We’ll see how we’re going to be situated, but we shouldn’t have any problems going forward. We know everyone that’s going to be out there. We just have to figure out where they’re going to be.”
So how does it get fixed? There aren’t any Pro Bowl players sitting out on the open market. The Vikings had to recall Austin Shepherd from NFL purgatory to have as insurance and had to raid Jacksonville’s practice squad this week to sign Rashod Hill as a stop-gap on the 53-man roster.
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With the O-line looking like something out of war movie with comrades in arms dropping left and right, the Vikings still have a job to do and, despite it all, still control their own destiny.
Over the last couple of weeks, the Vikings have made adjustments to go to a short passing game that has provided a spark to the offense, but Boone and what remain of his teammates are taking on a daunting challenge to play as well as they can and finish off games they have a chance to win.
“We’ve just got to execute more,” Boone said. “You get the ball twice in the fourth quarter with a chance to win (against Washington), you’ve got to put the ball in the end zone. Bottom line. That’s why I think a lot of people are saying ‘they played tough, they played good.’ That’s great and that’s grand, but you’ve got to get the win. We’re close right now and we’re going to get one soon.”