Offensive Line Dominates News

The offensive line is undergoing some major adjustments, and Mike Tice said he was forced to make some decisions in order to get some consistency by the regular-season opener. That meant good news for some and bad news for others.

In April, the Vikings figured their offensive line would like this at the start of the regular season: Bryant McKinnie at left tackle, Adam Goldberg at left guard, Matt Birk at center, Chris Liwienski at right guard and, injuries allowing, Mike Rosenthal at right tackle.

That last caveat, the recovery of Mike Rosenthal from a fractured foot, seems like the least of the offensive line's worries.

Head coach Mike Tice is making a decision with two preseason games left to insert rookie Marcus Johnson at right guard, switch Liwienski back to the left side, and Cory Withrow is looking more and more like the starting center for the foreseeable future while Birk works his way back from multiple surgeries that appear to be taking a longer recovery time than originally anticipated.

Liwienski returned to left guard for Monday morning's practice, a position at which he started all 16 games last regular season. Johnson was the first-team right guard Monday morning, a position he played in last Friday's second preseason game.

Liwienski would have played against the Jets if it were a regular-season game, but his sprained shoulder gave Johnson a chance to start on the right side, and he came through.

"He looked like a different player on the right side," Tice said of Johnson. "He's going to make mistakes. In schemes, he's thinking and he'll be late off the ball. Unfortunately – I'm not giving him an out – he might jump offsides because he's thinking about an assignment. If you're going to go with young guys, you've got to grow with them, but I think he's got unique ability. He's got tremendous recoverability. He's a great athlete. He's passionate. He plays real hard."

Since Johnson is more comfortable on the right side, that's is where he'll start.

"Could he be a left guard? Absolutely, but I don't have time," Tice said. "I've got three weeks to get ready for Tampa Bay. I've got to make a decision."

Tice said Goldberg isn't happy with the move.

"He's not very happy. Would you be?" Tice said. "You're in a heated battle to win a starting job and you get told by your head coach in the morning that you're going to be a backup. I thought he played well Friday night, but this gives us the best chance to be successful. As a team player, I'm sure he's accepting it. I certainly sure he doesn't like it, and I would like it if I were him either."

Goldberg will be a utility backup.
While Johnson's youth as a second-round draft pick this year might contribute to him making mistakes, Withrow said Johnson is athletic enough to make up for those mistakes.

BIRK'S RETURN

Birk's return to game action – much less fully padded practices – appears to be a question that doesn't have any immediate answers.

"We're just gathering information and making sure that I'm making the right decision," Birk said of his weekend trip to New York for a second opinion on his health.

He has had three surgeries to repair a sports hernia that limited him last year and hip surgery this summer that is thought to be a result of compensating for his past surgeries.

He doesn't sound ready to return to action any time soon.

"When I'm ready and I'm confident that I'm making the right decision then I'll be back out there," Birk said.

He later added: "Hopefully I learned my lesson."

When asked if the pain is limited to the hip area, Birk said it depended on which day it was.

"It's kind of a lingering soreness. I think it's an accumulation of all the stuff that I've been through," he said.

Tice didn't seem as reserved as Birk when the head coach said, "Birk hopefully will be back tomorrow. We'll see how that goes."

OFFICIALS ON THEIR WAY

The Vikings were penalized 17 times for 122 yards on Friday. Part of the solution, Tice hopes, is bringing in officials during scrimmages. The Vikings have had high school officials for past scrimmages, but he plans on having Big Ten officials and the son of NFL referee Bernie Kuchar helping with padded practices.

Tice planned on doing that for Tuesday's evening practice.

"We'll continue in that realm I don't care how long, whenever we're in pads, as long as it takes for us to clean up those penalties."

Tice said in looking at the film, three of the flags thrown on special teams in New York Friday night came during good effort by the players, but then those players hit people in the back and were legitimately flagged.

"You have to have great aggression and great effort, but it has to match with your brain," Tice said.

He said the holding calls were just a matter of offensive linemen's hands getting too wide on the defender. Tice brought out straps for his offensive linemen to wear during drills in training camp at Mankato, an effort to get his linemen to keep their hands inside on the defender.

"It goes back to the straps. The straps were a big joke for everybody, but I didn't do it as a joke," Tice said. "We've got to get our hands inside. When a guy goes down to the ground at the point of attack, they're going to call holding. In fact, in this league it's the only time they call holding."

MORE OF MOORE

Tice said Mewelde Moore will be the starter Friday against San Diego, but only because Michael Bennett has a strained neck.

"Michael Bennett's our starting running back, (but) he's got a dinged neck right now," Tice said.

NOTES

  • The Vikings may look to allocate some of those players they released Monday morning – LB David Bamiro, WR Avion Black, QB John Bowenkamp, C Shawn Lynch and T William Obeng – to NFL Europe next spring.

  • Tice said cornerback Fred Smoot will play Friday, but the Vikings will be cautious not to play him too long and risk injury because he's too tired.

  • After a two-catch, 67-yard performance on Friday night, Troy Williamson saw some action in Monday morning's practice in with the first team in a three-wide receiver set.


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