Versatile Lineman on Vikings' Radar

The Vikings were spotted talking to several offensive linemen at last week's Senior Bowl practices, including a versatile option that is likely looking to improve his standing at the NFL Combine later this month.

Right out of the gate, following the Senior Bowl's first practices last week, the Vikings were spotted talking to several offensive linemen. Among their targets was a man nicknamed "Big Bank."

At 6-foot-3, 331 pounds, University of Texas guard-tackle Justin Blalock lives up to the first part of that nickname, and if he becomes a first-day draft pick in April, he'll complete the moniker.

While with the Longhorns, Blalock started a school-record 50 games in his distinguished four-year career and was among the finalists for the Lombardi Award as the nation's top collegiate offensive lineman and the Outland Trophy as the country's top interior lineman. It comes as no surprise, then, that Blalock was also a consensus All-American and the Big 12's Offensive Lineman of the Year in 2006, a third-team All-American by the Associated Press in 2005 and a three-team All-Big 12 selection.

Blalock played both right guard and right tackle for the Longhorns – both positions of questionable starting talent with the Vikings – and continued to show that versatility at the Senior Bowl, but a knee injury seemed to affect his quickness.

"The guard/tackle prospect did not distinguish himself as the top interior prospect, as was expected," wrote TFY Draft Preview in its Senior Bowl analysis of Blalock. "Struggling with a sprained MCL ligament, Blalock had trouble all week with his lateral movement. Pass blocking was suspect early in the week and improved with each practice. His run blocking was not on par with what he had shown earlier in the season. If his knee is the major concern and it clears physicals, Blalock could see be an early-round pick. His overall play, though, would indicate more of a late day-one pick."

Blalock's his path for the NFL was forming already in high school, as he recorded 129 pancake blocks as a junior and excelled in the classroom as well. He had a 3.6 GPA and a 1280 on the SAT and 31 on the ACT.

Maybe those strong academic marks contribute to the versatility he displayed at Texas, where he started the first six games of the season at right tackle and the final six at right guard. As a staple on that Longhorns line, he helped pave the way for 170.3 rushing yards per game (30th in the NCAA), 392.6 total yards per game (23rd in the NCAA) and was part of the nation's fifth-best scoring team (36.8 points per game).

The Longhorns' production was even better in Blalock's junior season, when his team won the National Championship Game.

In 2005, he was part of a line that helped Texas rank first in the nation in scoring offense (50.2 ppg), second in rushing offense (274.9 ypg) and third in total offense (512.1 ypg). The Longhorns set school records for points scored (652) and total yards (6,657).

Individually, however, Blalock might have to prove himself all over again at the NFL Combine if his knee allows for a better showing in Indianapolis later this month.

His daily analysis by TFY Draft Preview leaves room for improvement:

Monday Practice Notes: Got reps as both guard and right tackle. Loved to bury his head at all times. In pass blocking drills was beaten off the edge because did not get depth on his initial kick step. Also struggled today with getting arm extension.

Tuesday: This afternoon Blalock did not sport the extra wrap on his knee as he did yesterday. One thing is certain; his overall lateral quickness is still affected as evidenced in his subpar pass protection. Saw reps at both guard and tackle again. Did not lead with his head as much today, but at times he would stop his feet after initial contact.

Wednesday: Bit of a struggle for Blalock today. He was corrected in multiple facets of his game, especially when overhearing the line coach yell, "When you're wide, you're weak." Obviously his base was too wide and he suffered in his run blocking because of it. On his zone blocks was not able to get his head across. His lateral quickness today was better, but is still lacking. The one area where Blalock did look better was in his overall pass sets especially in his patience when engaging the defender.

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