Coach Mike Tice and offensive coordinator/line coach Steve Loney's season-long game of Tetris continues. As each tick and tock of the season clicks of the clock, Tice and Loney are constantly shifting, sliding, maneuvering and managing the pieces of their offensive line puzzle. Every move they make is based on the hope this could be the right mix.
The line could undergo its most major overhaul yet by Sunday when the Vikings host the Cleveland Browns.
Melvin Fowler says he is healthy enough to play and could replace Cory Withrow at starting center. Anthony Herrera will start at left guard for Toniu Finoti. Bryant McKinnie, the line's calmness in the 2005 storm, is a lock at left tackle. Adam Goldberg is settling in at right guard, and Marcus Johnson is replacing veteran Mike Rosenthal at right tackle.
For those scoring at home, the Vikings are starting a former Brown with little experience with the Vikings (Fowler), two undrafted free agents that includes one rookie at guard (Herrera and Goldberg), a rookie at right tackle (Johnson), and a former first-round pick (McKinnie).
Herrera and Johnson played most of the second half against Green Bay on Monday. In separate instances, both players were involved in extracurricular pushes and shoves that didn't draw penalty flags. The nastiness Tice referred to as "pissing matches" caught the coach's eye. That's a good thing, by the way.
"That's us, that's our nature," Herrera said of he and Johnson. "He's an aggressive guy. I'm an aggressive guy. We go out there and play hard and play the way we know how to play ball.
"As an offensive lineman you want to be known as a dirty player. You want to have that edge about you. You have to let your guy know that you're going to play hard."
Herrera is on the same page with Tice, a former line coach who appreciated blue-collar effort and lunch-pail confrontation.
"I don't think we have enough of that attitude where a guy is angry when his guy hits our guy with the football in his hand," Tice said. "I told the players the other night, ‘I know I'm angry when it happens. I need to see more of you angry when it happens.' That is the attitude we are looking for. That is the attitude we need."
Goldberg entered the season in a reserve role. But through injuries, inefficiencies and a lack of productivity by the line, he was moved into a starting role. Goldberg won't go so far as to say the line is at its best with veterans like Matt Birk, Withrow, Rosenthal, and Finoti on the sidelines. Rather, he thinks success on the line will come from the sum of the parts.
"Obviously nothing's in isolation," Goldberg said. "There are a lot of moving parts in this offense, so we'll never know in isolation what factors into what. We're a pretty cohesive unit on and off the field. We pride ourselves in being able to role with the punches and whatever adversity comes up, to be able to sustain a solid level of play no matter what happens.
"I don't really think it has anything to do with personnel or whether one guy is making plays and another guy is not making plays. It has to with the whole team believing in one another."
At 5-5 after a dismal start, that confidence has naturally grown.
"We do a good job in practice of rotating all the guys in," Herrera said. "I'll never feel uncomfortable when I'm around all of the guys because I know exactly how they're going to play each block. I've been working with them on scout team, and getting some reps with the (starters). When I got in the game I didn't have to worry about a guy because I know they'll get their job done and I know what they're going to do."
O-Line Becoming Young, Nasty and...Cohesive?
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