Commentary: Reading Between the O-lines

There's what goes on between the lines on the practice fields in Mankato, and then there's what might be going on "between the lines" in the subtle happenings and behind the scenes. Here are a few observations from the early days of training camp regarding the development of the offensive line.

This is just speculation, but the best potential for improvement on the right side of the offensive line might be if Marcus Johnson could win the right tackle job and Anthony Herrera the right guard spot.

No disrespect to veteran Artis Hicks and second-year pro Ryan Cook, but Johnson is clearly the superior physical talent at right tackle if he can develop the focus and consistency needed to live up to his true potential.

Johnson has the physical tools, strength, explosiveness, feet and nastiness to be a very good player.  But he has been plagued by inconsistency in his first two seasons.  To some degree, he’s been the Troy Williamson of offensive tackles.  While he shows flashes of dominance at times, his propensity for penalties has undermined his ability to settle in at the position.

Herrera is somewhat similar.  Two years ago in training camp, Herrera looked like he was ready to emerge when he was getting reps with the first team at center with Matt Birk out of the lineup.  But he picked up a nasty infection in his leg, lost critical time in training camp, and simply couldn’t catch up again.

It appears once again that he’s getting a good, long look again this season.  Herrera has some explosiveness and looks like a poor man’s Randall McDaniel at times, but he can be overzealous and plays out of control occasionally.  However, if he keeps getting first-team reps and develops more consistency, he could bring some fresh blood to the right side of the line.

So what about Cook and Hicks?  Both might be better suited in the long run to be swingmen on the offensive line.  Both offer versatility.

Hicks played in a left-handed stance most of his pro career with the Eagles before coming to Minnesota in a trade last season.  He has also played tackle.  So he could provide veteran, experienced depth at left tackle, left guard, right guard and right tackle if needed.

Cook came out of college as a center, but also played some guard at New Mexico.  Since joining the Vikings, he’s gotten most of his reps at right tackle.  But most football people suggest he lacks the athleticism to handle elite pass rushers there and does not possessing the power-type frame to control defenders at the point of attack there.  But, he’s an intelligent, crafty, technician-type blocker who might be smart enough to learn virtually all five offensive line positions.

It’s not uncommon to find a guard-tackle who can play both those spots on one side of the line.  But it is somewhat unusual to find a player that can legitimately play all three offensive line spots.  Cook might be able to do that.

Why’s this so important?  On game day when you can only suit up so many players, it’s very helpful if you can get by dressing only seven or eight offensive linemen, because other players can usually contribute on special teams in ways that linemen often cannot.  Plus, the Vikings have virtually no experienced depth at all on the offensive line.

The Vikings have a lot of good young prospects in camp on the offensive line, but none have much in the way of NFL experience.

If Johnson and Herrera could step up, Hicks and Cook would provide more experience behind the starting five, with perhaps one or two of those other guys making the team in more of a developmental-type role, and another one or two likely on the practice squad.

The other developmental prospects:  Seppo Evwaraye, Jimmy Martin, Adam O’Connor, Chase Johnson, Josh Day, Kyle Cook, Brian Daniels, Norm Katnik and Dan Mozes.

Any of these guys could conceivably make the 53-man roster.  Any of these guys could conceivably be solid practice squad guys.

Katnik has some NFL experience and played virtually every OL position and even some tight end in college.  Evwaraye is pretty much assured of that as a foreign-born player and part of the league’s international developmental strategy.  Martin and O’Connor have been to a couple NFL training camps, gained valuable experience in Europe this summer and might have tackle-guard versatility.  Johnson is a pure tackle with great size and some developmental potential.  Cook and Mozes were both draftable prospects who have experience at center and guard.  Day and Daniels are also better-than-average free agent signees.

Hicks and Cook could still end up being the starters at right guard and right tackle respectively, but Herrera and Johnson might offer a little better upside potential if they can earn the jobs in training camp.

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