You get the feeling you’ve heard this song before. It’s another week for the Minnesota Vikings and another different starting offensive line combination.
This time, it’s center Joe Berger who is out. Berger suffered a concussion in the first half of the Detroit game last week, leaving just one of the opening-day starters on the O-line – right guard Brandon Fusco – who has managed to start every game this season for the Vikings.
Fusco has seen players on both sides of him drop with regularity. When Nick Easton gets his first start tomorrow against Dallas, he will be the second starting center. Three different players have started at right tackle. Two different players have started at left guard. Three different players have started at left tackle.
The revolving door hasn’t allowed Minnesota to maintain any momentum on the offensive line because, just when they think they have a group of players that can finish out the season as the starting line grouping, another injury knocks someone out.
There is no time to wonder of what could have been. They have to go with the hand they were dealt.
“We have to be ready to go,” Fusco said. “If that’s not the case, we just have to make the best of it. That’s how it’s been all year. It’s been something we’ve had to deal with since the start of the season. I’ve never been around anything like this, but we have to stick together as a group and, when somebody new gets into the lineup, we try to make sure we stay strong.”
The Dallas Cowboys is the last opponent any team going through a slump wants to face. At 10-1 with 10 straight wins, the Cowboys offense has been getting all the headlines, but the Dallas defense has done its fair share of good things to help the Cowboys get to where they are.
The offense, led by rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, has garnered the lion’s share of attention, but Fusco was quick to point out that teams win and lose together and that the Dallas defense is no little brother to their offense.
“They’re a pretty good defense from what I’ve seen,” Fusco said. “They stunt a lot, they rotate a lot of guys in and out and mix in blitzes that keep you on your toes. We’ve got to do a good job of recognizing what they’re doing up front and reacting to it.”
With all the losses the Vikings have suffered along the offensive line this season, the one ray of hope that worked its way through the clouds at Winter Park this week was the appearance of Adrian Peterson on the Vikings sideline.
While running behind an end zone isn’t a leap of faith to say that Peterson will be back on the field any time soon, for an offensive line that has suffered as much as the Vikings has this season, the potential of having the golden goose back in the lineup would be something Fusco would love to see for the stretch run.
“It’s great,” Fusco said. “He’s a great player and we’d welcome him back with open arms. Whenever the word is that he’s coming back or not, we’re just going to stick to our game plan no matter who is back there and block for him.”
While it remains uncertain when or if Peterson will return to the lineup, one thing Fusco does know is that Easton is going to be lining up on his left shoulder, making his first career start.
Easton has been with the Vikings since last season. His action prior to last Thursday was primarily to be used as an extra blocker to help protect Sam Bradford, but now the bright lights will be on and Easton, and Fusco is confident the replacement will step up and do his part as the newest member of the constantly-morphing offensive line.
“Nick is hard worker,” Fusco said. “He’s very smart and knows what he’s doing. He’s watched us play this season, he’s learned and it’s his time to play.”
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The Vikings know what is at stake tomorrow. If they want to defend their NFC North title, they will likely need to win four of their final five games. The players have changed at certain positions, especially along the offensive line, but the same team that started strong this season is the same one that wants – and intends – to finish strong.
Fusco may be the last man standing from the five players that started in Week 1 as the only one to start all 12 games, but he is mindful of what the Vikings are up against and, if they’re going to make the playoffs, in his view, those essentially start Thursday.
“Every game now is like a playoff game for us,” Fusco said. “We’ve got to win. If we lose this game, we’re falling behind a little bit. We’re the same team we were when we were 5-0. We have the same guys working hard, coming in and putting in the work and trying to make this thing right. We’ve just got to go out there and execute and we’re going to work hard to get the results.”