The Vikings had the worst rushing offense in the NFL last year and the worst average in yards per carry. Injuries certainly played in a role in those statistics, from RB Adrian Peterson, who missed 13 games, to the consistent shuffling of the offensive line, which had eight different starting combinations as the Vikings pile up offensive lineman on season-ending injured reserve.
Injuries are next to impossible to predict, other than they will happen. It’s just a matter of when, where, how often and how severe. But the mentality of the offensive line was something that Boone believed needed an adjustment as well.
“Absolutely. I think the one thing that everyone is always striving for is to have the meanest, toughest, nastiest sons of bitches up front,” Boone said. “The more guys you can plug in there that are built like that, are kind of molded like that, the better. It kind of rubs off on the other guys.”
Boone thinks the addition of Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers, the likely starting offensive tackles that were added in free agency, boosts the toughness of the offensive line. He also sees that quality in Nick Easton, who has been starting at center during offseason practices, and Pat Elflein, who was drafted in the third round and could eventually push Easton for his starting spot.
While many observers of the Vikings last year focused on the pass protection as needing an upgrade, Zimmer emphasized the need to improve the running game. The belief was that running the ball better and more consistently would keep defenses guessing and thereby slow their pass rush.
“Obviously we had a lot of issues last year with our run game and a lot of it was due to injury. We were kind of just doing the best we could and at the end of the day it really wasn’t good enough and we all know that,” Boone said. “We didn’t make the playoffs. None of us were satisfied with the way that year ended.”
The inability to run the ball effectively created shorter drives and kept the defense on the field. Several defenders this offseason have admitted the defense may have worn down over the course of the 2016 season.
Boone has also gotten the feeling that the offense didn’t contribute enough in a season that started with playoff aspirations and ended with an 8-8 record that didn’t qualify for the postseason.
“Our defense did so much for us in the beginning and we didn’t really have a lot to show for them,” he said. “I think going forward we need to kind of prove to them that, hey, we’re built for this and we can help you guys out as much as you can help us.”
The Vikings offense finished 23rd in points per game while the defense was sixth in points allowed.
Boone might be the only player on the offensive line returning to start at the same position he was at this time last year. The left guard is currently sandwiched in between Reiff, who was a priority signing in March, and Easton, who was expected to be a reserve, at best, last year. Elflein also has a chance to start at center.
But if chemistry between players is one of the most important aspects in developing an offensive line, the cohesion could take time when it comes to adjustments and having that sense of what the adjacent blocker is doing.
Boone, however, said chemistry is building with Reiff.
“He’s a very reserved guy, quiet, about his business. I think that’s one thing I like about him the most – when we’re in there, we’re all business. When we’re out of it, we’re kind of messing around,” Boone said. “It’s a nice addition to have.”
Last year, Boone was the new guy on the line. Even so, he was trying to be a leader as one of the more vocal guys on the line. It’s a role he’s continuing this year.
“It’s hard, but at the end of the day I think it’s something the guys respond well to as long as you’re doing it with them and kind of walking the walk,” he said. “I think all good leaders kind of put themselves out in front and do everything you’re supposed to do. It just shows by action.”
Likewise, the level of success the offensive line has will be determined by their action on the field, but Boone is optimistic.
“It’s going to shake out to be a really good offensive line,” he said.