Interior Depth Coming Together

With five players on the offensive line that made every start last year, depth might not seem like a major concern. However, it always is, and the Vikings were working this spring to further develop their second line of depth.

The starters on the offensive line should be set with Bryant McKinnie at left tackle, Chris Liwienski at left guard, Matt Birk at center, David Dixon at right guard and Mike Rosenthal at right tackle.

Already at this point this year, the second line of depth behind the starters appears to be nearly in place. Rookie Nat Dorsey will likely open the preseason listed as the first backup left tackle and maybe even right tackle, but the Vikings have other more experienced options should they really need to play a tackle other than McKinnie or Rosenthal early in the regular season.

Both Lewis Kelly and Adam Haayer have played tackle in regular-season games, although offensive line coach Steve Loney would like to continue working them mainly inside.

Haayer saw limited duty at left tackle when Bryant McKinnie was still holding out during the first half of the 2002 season and Everett Lindsay was injured. Haayer was thrown into the fire at a position that might not have been his natural spot. And now?

"No. 1 he's a guard now," Loney said of Haayer. "He's been a tackle up to this time. He's just playing more confident with a little more strength and a little more toughness than he did. That isn't to say that he wasn't tough or wasn't strong before, but when you're confident … he's now in his fourth year in the league, and that's really the time that offensive linemen start to produce. I think he's going to have every opportunity to be one of our active guys going into games."

The same is true with Kelly. He started at left tackle during the 2002 preseason and made five starts in seven appearances during the regular season, but that year was marred by the death of his wife and unborn child. As he rebounds from that tragedy, on the field he has been making a less important transition.

"I've really tried to emphasize him being an interior (player)," Loney said of Kelly. "We've worked him hard at guard and center because we need to know if he could be a backup center because you really need to have three like your quarterback position. That's one position you can't shortchange because not everybody can step in there and snap the ball.

"For his sake, I tried to just keep him inside. I do feel comfortable with him at center. I think he can grow into that position."

Based on his snaps to quarterbacks in the shotgun during spring practices, Kelly might need more time to develop at center before the Vikings put him there during a regular-season game, but he looks comfortable blocking at center or guard.

The starting five is hoping to put together another season of all of them making each start, but if they don't the depth looks pretty well set, at least inside.

Loney on McKinnie: "Always he's going to get the best pass rusher, so to say there are no worries, he's going to have a tremendous challenge each week. He can be that dominant of player and be that real leader at that tackle position. With Liwienski being next to him, I think it's going to be a real solid left side of the line."

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