Of the casualties of the 2016 Minnesota Vikings, one of them clearly was fullback Zach Line. The demarcation line of his usage on offense was in direct correlation to who was his offensive coordinator.
When Norv Turner was around and calling the shots, Line was seeing plenty of playing time. When he wasn’t, neither was Line.
In the first six games with Turner running the show, Line was on the field with the offense for 114 plays – an average of 19 plays a game. In the final 10 games, he was on the field for 96 plays – roughly half the amount of plays per game.
In the first six games, he was never on the field for less than 14 plays. In the final 10 games, he was on the field more than 11 plays just twice.
While his role in the offense changed considerably, Line felt it was just as much a case of what was succeeding for a Vikings offense that was constantly in flux and changing on the fly.
“I think we just adjusted to what was working,” Line said. “We had our struggles this season, but I thought at the end of the season our offense started coming together. We just ran out of games. This whole season was one of adjustments. We had a new quarterback, we lost our star running back early and the injuries on the offensive line were really tough. Just when guys started to get comfortable with the guy next to him, somebody else got hurt. Everyone knows injuries are the nature of the beast in the NFL, but I can’t remember anything even close to the number of people going down that we had.”
Line’s role in the offense was diminished because the Vikings were running their offense almost exclusively out of the shotgun, which rarely required a fullback.
While Line wanted to make a bigger impact on the offense, he understood what the game plans were and they often didn’t have a role for him.
“My role changed a lot, but we went with what was working for us at the time,” Line said. “Obviously, I was hoping for more time out there playing fullback, but, at the end of the day, the biggest goal is to win. You look to help your team win however you can. For me that meant more focus on special teams, which I was fine with because if it could help us win, I was ready to do whatever was asked of me to help get that done.”
The adjustment for Line came primarily on game day. He often got the typical workload during the week of practice, but the Vikings offense tended to roll with the hot hand on game day and, when Sam Bradford was completing almost every pass he threw for long stretches, it kept Line more a spectator than a participant.
“Every week of practice felt the same, but the games were different,” Line said. “If something is working, you don’t go away from it and, for us, that meant a lot more shotgun and that usually meant I wasn’t out there. Against Jacksonville, the run was working and I got about 30 reps in that game. It depended on the situation and more times than not the passing game was the most effective part of our offense.”
Line is a free agent who may well find himself the victim of a numbers game. If Shurmur continues on the path he clearly blazoned when he officially took over the play-calling, there is no place for Line in the 2017 Vikings offense – bad news for a pending free agent.
Line hopes to be back with the Vikings, but is realistic about the prospects of having a big role in the new Vikings offense.
“I know this is a business and you do what you’re going to do from the team side of things,” Line said. “I don’t know where things are going, but I want to be part of what we’re doing here. It’s not up to me, but I’m ready to do what I can to help this team win. That’s how I’m looking at it.”