Offensive Line Still Work in Progress

Despite working with each other throughout the offseason minicamps, conditioning programs and training camp, the Vikings' highly publicized offensive line is still a work in progress. See what Bryant McKinnie, Steve Hutchinson and head coach Brad Childress had to say about the subject.

Bryant McKinnie finds himself in an awkward position. After playing on an offensive line that had long been known for its durability and cohesiveness, McKinnie looks up and down the line of scrimmage and sees new faces at every position.

After being injured last season, Matt Birk returns to center. Artis Hicks is the new face at left guard and Marcus Johnson is at right tackle. The Vikings' free agent signing of the offseason, Steve Hutchinson, is starting at left guard next to McKinnie at left tackle, the only position along the line that remains the same from a year ago.

The musical chairs being played on the offensive line has put added emphasis on the preseason.

"Learning how each other plays is the main thing, but it's coming along pretty well," McKinnie said after practice Tuesday at Winter Park. "(Hutchinson) is a hard worker himself and he has been good for me. We all have to be on the same page of who's going to do what. We're a work in progress."

McKinnie and Hutchinson have the dubious responsibility of protecting quarterback Brad Johnson's blindside. Considering Hutchinson is a Pro Bowler and McKinnie, the Vikings' No. 1 draft pick in 2002, are guarding the backside of the right-handed QB, it appears Johnson's safety is in good hands.

"Brad Johnson has the confidence in us and that means something," McKinnie said.

The offensive line has had more time to work with each other than it appears. While training camp and the preseason schedule have afforded players a month together, minicamps and conditioning and workout plans have been occurring most of the offseason. But Hutchinson says only time will tell how quickly the line jells.

"The majority of guys have been around for the majority of the offseason conditioning program, too," Hutchinson said. "We have had a lot of work on the field with each other so far, so we've had a good start. We have to continue to build on what we've done."

The line's depth appeared to be tested earlier in training camp when McKinnie suffered a fracture on his left middle finger three weeks ago. But he only missed a snap or two during practice and wears a protective cast around his left hand.

"It's coming alone fine," McKinnie said of the broken finger. "It's not that big of a deal at all. It doesn't affect much with me."

McKinnie has started every game since he was inserted into the lineup midway through his rookie season in 2002 – 55 straight games. Not only is he the lone returning lineman from last year's unit, he was the only offensive lineman to start every game in 2005.

"Last year it took some time to make a name for myself, but this year it's going to be better," McKinnie said. "Everybody's pretty much picking it all up and moving a lot faster. We'll know a lot more coming up to the first regular season game."

The thing to watch on the Vikings offensive line right now is what happens Saturday when teams must trim their roster down to 53 players for the regular season. Along with the aforementioned five starters, Mike Rosenthal, Adam Goldberg and Chris Liwienski have all been mainstays with the Vikings. The three have started 122 games between them, including 33 last year. Time will tell if they will remain.

"I appreciate those guys, they've done a nice job," head coach Brad Childress said. "They're veterans so they're competing for their spot, trying to compete for a spot on the team."

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