One of the primary needs that the Minnesota Vikings had heading into the 2017 offseason was rebuilding their offensive line. By the time we get closer to the start of the season, what was clearly the undeniable weakness of the 2016 Vikings is going to have a completely new look.
A year ago at this time, all the rage about the offensive line was how deep the talent was. Phil Loadholt and John Sullivan were coming back from injury to an offensive line that was the only one that had the same five starters for all 16 games. It was thought that with their return, the combination of Sullivan, Loadholt, Matt Kalil and Brandon Fusco would be the groundwork for the offense and one of the team’s primary strengths, since at least two of the 2015 starters were going to be heading to the bench.
As we all know, that didn’t happen. Sullivan and Loadholt never made it back to see the regular season, and Kalil and Fusco were both sidelined and eventually the organization parted with both of them.
As we dawn into the 2017 season, there is a growing sense of a similar feeling permeating around the Vikings offensive line. Many of the names have changed, but the promise of improvement is the key to everything.
The Vikings currently have 10 players on their official roster on the team website listed as offensive tackles. Clearly that won’t remain at the number for too long, but they have the ammunition to create competition.
Free agent signees Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers are the presumptive starters, and previous starter T.J. Clemmings leads a backup crew that includes Austin Shepherd, Rashod Hill and a handful of unproven players looking to knock one of them off his spot on the depth chart.
The difference between the shambles of a crew that was largely together last season is the three interior line spots.
There are six players currently on the roster that are listed as guards and centers and there is every likelihood that, barring injury – a two-word phrase that was bitterly ironic last season – all six will make the 53-man roster.
Three players are listed as guards – starting left guard Alex Boone, guard/tackle swingman Jeremiah Sirles and rookie Danny Isidora. If those are the top three guards, it would seem obvious that Boone would be the starting left guard and Sirles and Isidora would battle it out for the starting right guard spot.
The Vikings’ most interesting roster conundrum is at center. A case can be made that all three of their centers – Joe Berger, Nick Easton and Patrick Elflein – could (and possibly should) all be their starter.
Berger has been the starter the last two seasons and it doesn’t take controversial player grading websites (This one’s for Zim!) to attest that he has graded out extremely well and consistently at his position.
But, is he the center for 2017?
Easton filled in well for Berger when he was either injured or playing guard, and there has been some internal buzz that if Berger was needed at guard the Vikings could likely get by without a significant drop-off in production or efficiency of getting the job done.
Enter Elflein, stage left.
For the majority of his career, he was dominating right guard – winning First Team All-Big 10 honors both years. Asked to move to center as a fifth-year senior at Ohio State, he won the Rimington Award – given annually to the college football’s best center.
If the team believes Elflein can take the job at center from Day One, Berger is now open to get into the right guard competition.
The Vikings offensive line of 2016 was an unqualified disaster. How different is the 2017 Vikings O-line going to be?
In many respects, there’s nowhere to go but up and the pieces are in place to be markedly better than what the team went through last year.