The scouting and coaching departments of the Minnesota Vikings have been putting in their time over the last two weeks in warmer climes.
Two weeks ago, the Vikings had several coaches at the East-West Shrine Game in Florida, including defensive coordinator George Edwards and quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski, acting as the offensive coordinator for the West team. At the Senior Bowl in Alabama last week, the Vikings had their scouts and coaches walking the sidelines, in the bleachers and in the press box, keeping an eye on potential future Vikings. The contingent included several of their new coaches and the key holdovers, including Edwards, Pat Shurmur and head coach Mike Zimmer.
So, what were the Vikings looking at? For starters, everything. Amusing headlines are generated every year at this time that the Vikings are talking with this player or that prospect. The reality: They interview all of them. It’s part of General Manager Rick Spielman’s edict that no detail is left behind. It could be paralysis by analysis, but that’s for Spielman to untangle while the coaches register their opinions in their areas of specialty.
Offensive line coach Tony Sparano was in the stands where the offensive linemen often worked on their skills, either individually or in competitive one-on-one drills against defensive linemen. Perhaps no other coach’s scouting reports will be as important as the ones submitted by Sparano.
The Vikings have to rebuild their offensive line with young talent that has better potential than past mid-round picks T.J. Clemmings and Willie Beavers. This time, the Vikings need to hit successfully on multiple picks on the line or it will be jobs on the line.
With a free-agent class of offensive tackles headlined by Andrew Whitworth, Matt Kalil and then everyone else farther down the ladder, the preferred route would be to re-sign Kalil or sign Whitworth and pile on top of them with younger talent for depth. But, if they can’t sign either of the top tackles, then logic dictates they have to get a tackle early in the draft.
So, what were the best offensive line options available at the Senior Bowl? We spent a lot of time watching them, and here are our top choices:
T/G Forrest Lamp, Western Kentucky – At nearly 6-foot-4 and 305 pounds, Lamp does a lot of things well. He played mostly left tackle on the first day of Senior Bowl practices, then was hurt. He was beaten once on a swim move, but he looks to have quick enough feet to handle left tackle at the NFL level. If he gets locked onto defenders, they don’t get away, and he is able to anchor down against power rushers. Lamp also looks like he could play nearly any position on the line.
LT Adam Bisnowaty, Pittsburgh – At 6-5½ and 307 pounds, Bisnowaty might have been the best pure left tackle in Mobile, Ala. last week. He has good hands and is adept at walling off to create a running lane. He sticks with his blocks and has some nastiness to him in trying to bury a defender, but he can get overpowered if he does get off-balance. But he and Lamp are projected to be drafted somewhere in the late first or second rounds.
LT Conor McDermott, UCLA – He’s a tall drink of water at a shade over 6-foot-8 and 305 pounds. He keeps his hands inside on defenders and will move edge rushers wide of the quarterback. He looks like he could improve his foot quickness, but will follow the action down the line and can maul defenders on double teams. He’s the brother of Vikings long snapper Kevin McDermott and expected to go sometime in Day 2 of the draft.
G Antonio Garcia, Troy – After looking hesitant at the snap on the first day of practices, the 6-foot-6, 293-pounder looked quicker the next few days and was strong at drive blocking on running plays, has a good anchor on pass protection and followed the action down the line nicely. He was listed as a tackle, but played more guard, where he seemed to excel. If the Vikings are looking for competition for Brandon Fusco, Garcia could provide that.
G Kyle Kalis, Michigan – He already has a couple of connections to the Vikings. He and Alex Boone went to the same high school and college, and Kyle is the son of former Vikings offensive lineman Todd Kalis. Kyle has many of the same traits as Boone – he loves to do the dirty work and be a tough guy. His technique should be rote, having grown up with a former offensive lineman as his dad and he’s likely to be there in the later rounds.
The Senior Bowl wasn’t flush with first-round prospects, but the Vikings don’t have one of those this year. There was, however, plenty of Day 2 and Day 3 prospect to watch, analyze and consider.
It wasn’t limited to the offensive line. A few defensive backs looked strong and two linebackers – Florida’s Alex Anzalone and Temple’s Haason Reddick – looked like they could be impactful players in the NFL.
But with a concentration on rebuilding the offensive line, the Vikings are likely to come away with a couple of offensive linemen in the draft and they should. The options in Mobile were intriguing.