With all the talk about the Vikings' newfound chances to be a playoff contender and potentially a favorite to win the NFC North title, the team is facing what could end up being a crisis at offensive tackle. What is expected to be a strength of the team could turn out to be a relatively huge liability.
The problems at tackle have become rather pronounced – to the point that there was some speculation that if the team didn't trade out of the first round, they could have become involved in the draft-day frenzy for offensive tackles. There are more questions than answers at the OT position and those questions start with Bryant McKinnie.
McKinnie has been viewed by some as being a player on the cusp of Pro Bowl-caliber talent at left tackle. But his problems would appear to be more off the field than on the field. After being arrested earlier this year and charged with felony assault, McKinnie could be facing a suspension from Commissioner Roger Goodell. If that happens, the Vikings will be forced to make some drastic changes on the fly and, from first view, it would seem the team is ill-equipped to handle such changes.
Depth is nearly nonexistent at the tackle spot. If McKinnie was to be suspended, it would most likely result in either Marcus Johnson or Artis Hicks being thrown into the fire. However, both Johnson and Hicks are former starters that are backups because of the lack of consistent play. Johnson has been an off-and-on starter who has had difficulty holding down the job at right tackle or guard. Left tackle might be out of his realistic playing range, and Hicks has minimal experience at left tackle, having played it only as a stop-gap injury replacement while in Philadelphia.
While there are questions at left tackle, the majority of those questions deal with hypothetical situations – will McKinnie be suspended and, if so, for how long? At the other side of the line, the questions are more concrete. Ryan Cook was handed the starting right tackle job last year after being converted from the center position and, for a time, it appeared to be a solid move in that regard. However, Cook showed some signs of wearing down as the season progressed Can he rebound and capture the position for good in 2008?
With all the moves the Vikings made in free agency and on draft weekend, adding depth at the tackle position was not one of them. The Vikings came into the free-agent period with question marks concerning depth and McKinnie's availability. They did nothing prior to the draft to address that potential eventuality. They did nothing draft weekend to address it either, unless undrafted rookie Drew Radovich can become a pleasant surprise. As it stands, the Vikings will have the same players on the depth chart to open training camp that they had to close out the 2007 season.
The questions surrounding the tackle position will likely be cleared up before the start of the season. If Goodell is to hand down a suspension to McKinnie, it likely would come in June or July – trying not to spring any surprises on the team during the regular season for an infraction that took place in the offseason. If McKinnie is punished by the league, it could be a worst-case scenario for an offense that counts on him to open holes for Adrian Peterson and protect Tarvaris Jackson's blind side.
As the waiting game begins for McKinnie, the Vikings find themselves continuing to have more questions than answers at offensive tackle.
Positional Analysis: Offensive Tackle
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