Offensive Line Hasn't Lived Up To Billing

The offensive line was supposed to be one of the strengths of the Vikings this season. Instead, it has given up too many sacks and struggled to become a cohesive unit, and now changes are being considered.

The Vikings did some major retooling of their offensive line during the off-season.

Free agent left guard Steve Hutchinson was lured away from Seattle with a seven-year contract that included $16 million in guaranteed money, and right guard Artis Hicks was obtained from Philadelphia in a draft-weekend trade.

They were added to a group that included Pro Bowl center Matt Birk, who returned after missing the entire 2005 campaign because of injury; right tackle Marcus Johnson, who was entering his second season; and left tackle Bryant McKinnie, the only full-time starter who was back.

The Vikings thought enough of McKinnie to give him a seven-year contract extension in September that contained just under $16 million in guaranteed bonuses. But so far the Vikings have not gotten the return they expected from this unit.

Especially when it comes to pass protection.

Quarterback Brad Johnson was sacked four times in Sunday's 23-17 loss to Green Bay and has been sacked 19 times this season. Vikings quarterbacks have absorbed 22 sacks overall if you include the three times Brooks Bollinger was thrown in a loss to New England in late October.

While Brad Childress has stressed the importance of not making any changes in the line because he didn't want to break up its cohesiveness, the Vikings coach sounded like he might be willing to shuffle things after the Green Bay game.

"I'm still mulling that over," Childress said. "I look at that every week and see where we are at and see if somebody gives us a better chance than somebody else. By and large you like for those guys to play together, but I'm not married to any of it. By the same token, I don't want to knee-jerk either."

If Childress does pull one of his starters, it most likely would be Johnson. He has had an up-and-down season and although he did not give up a sack against Green Bay's Aaron Kampman last Sunday, Childress could elect to give veteran Mike Rosenthal a chance at right tackle.

Asked what's wrong the line, Childress said: "There's two things: There is physically if you are getting beat, it's one thing, and communication-wise if you are getting beat, that's another thing. At different times it has been different things. Obviously you want to over-communicate clarity, and it's happening at a lightning speed up there. I don't think it's rocket science particularly, but it is communication and guys playing off of each other at times. And at times physically different people have been overwhelmed."

At certain points that has included McKinnie, who at one point in the Green Bay game was unable to stop blitzing linebacker A.J. Hawk. McKinnie has had his rough moments this season but Childress defended the tackle.

"I don't know that you pile it all on his feet," Childress said. "Were some of (the mistakes on Sunday) his? Sure, there were. Were they all his? No, they weren't all his going back that direction. I know when it comes off of that side you feel like the culpability is the last guy outside. ... I'm not disappointed with him. I think they all can play at a better level than they are playing right now."

NOTES

  • QB Brad Johnson has thrown one touchdown and five interceptions during the Vikings' three-game losing streak. Johnson also has been sacked eight times during the skid.

  • RB Chester Taylor was rested in practice last Wednesday because the coaching staff was concerned about how beat up he was — Taylor was listed as having a problem with his calf on the injury report — but he carried the ball 20 times for 75 yards against the Packers on Sunday. Although it would seem like a good idea, Childress said he does not plan to begin giving Taylor one day a week off from practice.

  • FB Tony Richardson has a fractured right forearm to go with his fractured right thumb and appears unlikely to play Sunday in Miami. He suffered the injury to his arm against the Packers.

  • TE Jermaine Wiggins did not catch a pass for the first time this season on Sunday. He dropped one ball and a penalty wiped out a play in which another ball was thrown to him. Wiggins had zero catches in a game only once before in his two-plus seasons with the Vikings.

  • WR Troy Williamson had only one pass thrown his way after dropping two passes the previous week at San Francisco. Williamson spent the week leading up to the Packers game working on his pass catching but it's clear he must win back the trust of the coaching staff.

  • WR Bethel Johnson might be taking over as the vertical threat the Vikings hoped Troy Williamson would become. Johnson caught only two passes against the Packers but one completion went for 35 yards and another for 40 yards. The first reception helped set up a touchdown.

  • WR Marcus Robinson missed a third consecutive game because of a lower-back injury, but he will begin practicing this week in hopes of returning Sunday at Miami.

  • DE Ray Edwards was inactive for Sunday's game for an undisclosed reason that was believed to be a violation of a team rule. Coach Brad Childress would not divulge what landed the rookie on the inactive list and Edwards declined to comment. Edwards has been impressive in his playing time in the Vikings rotation of linemen so it certainly wasn't his performance that landed him on the bench.

  • MLB Napoleon Harris is going to try to begin practicing this week after missing two games because of a dislocated left wrist. Dontarrious Thomas has done a respectable job in Harris' absence but the Vikings seem to miss Harris' ability to blitz.

  • LE Darrion Scott played Sunday despite a Grade 1 high left ankle sprain suffered the previous week at San Francisco. With Ray Edwards inactive, Scott did not seem to get much of a break in the snaps department.

  • CB Fred Smoot returned to the team Monday after missing the Packers game to tend to a family tragedy. Smoot's half-brother died in an auto accident on Nov. 5 and he spent the whole week in Mississippi. The funeral was held Saturday.

  • Rookie CB Cedric Griffin is expected to be back in the nickel role Sunday at Miami after starting in place of Fred Smoot against the Packers. That will mean Ronyell Whitaker will return to a role on special teams and maybe the dime defense.


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