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Offensive linemen don't get much publicity … except when they make a mistake, like commit a penalty or allow a sack. So how did the Vikings OL do in that regard a year ago?

What do "stats" reveal about Vikings offensive line?

The Vikings' offensive line, despite a perceived weakness perhaps at right tackle, is still considered one of the better units in the league by most, but what do the "stats" say?

According to statistics compiled by Stats LLC, the team's starting offensive line was responsible for a total of 15 penalties (for 108 yards) and allowed 24 sacks for a total of 132.5 yards.

Granted, those numbers don't at all tell the whole story.  They don't reveal the caliber of the opposition, the specific circumstances with each "negative play" and they certainly don't measure the many effective blocks registered in the running game or on pass protection.

Nevertheless, we'll assess what we can assess.

Left tackle Bryant McKinnie committed just two penalties for 15 yards, but gave up seven sacks for 40.5 yards last season.  It seemed like they all came against Jared Allen in the Chiefs game, but they actually didn't.  Still, those numbers aren't those of a truly elite left tackle.  But off-field consequences looming or not, he's the best they have to line up there at this point.

However, after standing out on pass protection in college, McKinnie has struggled to some degree (especially with quicker, undersized defensive ends) throughout his pro career, allowing 46 sacks in five ½ seasons in the NFL.

All-Pro left guard Steve Hutchinson had just one penalty for 5 yards and allowed three sacks for 13.5 yards.  His numbers reveal just what he is - one of the most consistent offensive linemen in the game.  They don't reveal his outright dominance, especially in the running game, however.

Center Matt Birk, who went to the Pro Bowl, committed four penalties (for 30 yards) and allowed three sacks for 18.5 yards.  Speculation by some is that Birk has shown signs of slipping and might not be a cinch to come back after his contract expires following the 2008 season.  At least statistically, he has given up more sacks (8.0) in the past two seasons than he had in the previous four seasons combined.

There's been much speculation about Birk's career with the Vikings beyond this season.  But a strong showing in 2008 might result in an extension, much like nose tackle Pat Williams received last year as he entered the final year of his contract with Minnesota.

Right guard Anthony Herrera (in 12 starts) committed three penalties (for 20 yards) and allowed four sacks for 23 yards.  Of course, projected to 16 games, that would have been four penalties and 5.33 sacks.  The Vikings wouldn't mind seeing just a bit more consistency there in 2008.

Right tackle Ryan Cook committed five penalties (for 38 yards) last season.  He also allowed seven sacks for 37 yards.  Viewed by many as the weak link on the offensive line, many fans might be surprised to see that Cook was "statistically" as effective on pass protection as McKinnie.

Improvement in sacks allowed would be nice, but the quarterback can help with that number, as well.  The six unforced errors (i.e. false start penalties) could be eliminated, and in general it just never seems that a penalty called on an offensive lineman isn't a drive killer.

It will be interesting to see if the Vikings can improve from within in 2008 on the offensive line, as it is one unit on the team they were not able to dramatically upgrade via free agency or the draft.

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