Any observer of the 2005 Minnesota Vikings could see that the unit in biggest need of repair was the offensive line.
In Mike Tice's last year as head coach, the shuffling on the line started early and often. The Vikings declined to offer longtime guard David Dixon a contract, putting the wheels in motion for his retirement and the drafting of a replacement.
That replacement was supposed to be second-round draft pick Marcus Johnson. Tice started using Johnson at right tackle in minicamp so the team wouldn't rush Mike Rosenthal back from a season-ending injury in 2004. But once Rosenthal had proved he was healthy enough for contact, Johnson had moved inside to guard almost exclusively in the June developmental camps.
But once training camp started, the rotation of Johnson, Chris Liwienski and Adam Goldberg – all moving between right and left guard – became almost sadly comical. Tice publicly displayed his dissatisfaction with the progress at guard, even going so far as to pull a fan with a Vikings jersey from the sideline and have him work in drills with the linemen as what was apparently supposed to be a motivational tactic for his guards. All that did was to get his players and offensive line coach Steve Loney to sigh and tread carefully when asked about the public display at training camp.
So after the carousel that was the 2005 offensive line, it might be natural – but welcome – to hear new head coach Brad Childress address the line early in his introductory press conference.
"Everything starts on the line, both offensive line and defensive line. They've got a decent defensive line, they've got rush guys, guys that can be pass rushers," Childress said.
Yet the offensive line needs to be addressed, whether it is in scheme or personnel.
"I think it's great to have a head coach with a coordinator background who is also in tune with what's going on up front," said Goldberg, who started the final 12 games at right guard after replacing Johnson. "It's nice to see that because a lot of the head guys and the coordinators are more the route guys, the pass routes and the play-calling gurus, and they let the offensive line coach handle the offensive line plays. It's nice to hear him address the line and how important it is."
Said Childress: "I've been a coordinator and a quarterbacks coach most of my life, and I understand that nothing in football happens without tough, physical, athletic linemen. I'm sure Carl (Eller) and Jim (Marshall) would attest. You have to run it, and you can't throw it with the quarterback laying on his back. Great defense starts on the front with the defensive line. They apply the pressure and choking off the run. For those reasons we will move quickly to solidify both of those fronts."
A glance at the final 2005 statistics shows a disparity in the sacks and good reason to address the fronts. Daunte Culpepper and Brad Johnson were sacked 54 times – Culpepper 31 times in 6-1/2 games. Defensively, while the Vikings applied some pressure, they produced only 34 sacks, an average of only 2.1 sacks per game.
While Childress's old team, the Philadelphia Eagles, were also on the short end of the sack statistic, the disparity wasn't quite as great as it was with the Vikings. Philly's quarterbacks were sacked 42 times, and the Eagles defense produced only 29 sacks.
"I think Philly's offense has been pragmatic. They do what works and they don't apologize for it," Goldberg said. "They find ways to get the ball to their playmakers. The one that sticks out in my mind is Brian Westbrook is everywhere for them. He's in the backfield, he's in the slot, he's motioning in and out of things. They find ways to get him involved, so I think that just shows the flexibility and the drive to get things done and to move the ball on offense. I'm excited to be part of that."
The offense under Childress is expected to change dramatically, but they key, as Childress mentioned, is the play of the offensive line. The Vikings just didn't have consistency there in 2005. While Bryant McKinnie started every game at left tackle, the rest of the line a was veritable mess of substitutions.
At left guard, Liwienski started the first nine games before giving way to Toniu Fonoti for one game, and when Fonoti pulled a groin muscle he was replaced by Anthony Herrera for the final six games. At center, Cory Withrow started the first four games before being replaced by Melvin Fowler, who started the next five games and then needed Withrow to start two of the next seven games while Fowler dealt with injuries. Johnson started the first four games at right guard, was replaced by Goldberg because of inconsistency, and then Johnson started five of the next six games at right tackle.
All of the offensive linemen Viking Update spoke with at the end of the season admitted it was a frustrating year. No doubt, they'd like to see more consistency, just like their new head coach.
Childress Wants to Start Up Front
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