Clayton Brooks has been previewing the Vikings roster group by group. Now it is time for the unit that has been the thorn in Vikings fans’ side for millennia: the offensive line.
What this group does not include is a highly-touted rookie, something a large section of the fanbase clamored for on draft night. And the highest drafted lineman, second-rounder O’Neill, did not crack first team reps in minicamp. With Elflein out, Isidora and Compton alternated left guard on the first team. Once he returns, the first group will look just like the corps that finished last season. So as of now, the lineup appears to be status quo.
The move of Remmers inside full-time will be something to watch in camp. At right tackle in 2017, Remmers was one of the more consistent pass protectors. However, at left guard, he was a bit of a mixed bag. Same goes for Hill; at times exceptional, at times a revolving door. While Hill has the starting job penciled in for now, Isidora and Compton are still in the running to grab the spot in training camp. Isidora brings athleticism while Compton has multiple years of starting under his belt, as well as a close relationship with quarterback Kirk Cousins. Plus, either of them starting would allow Remmers to return to his more natural position of tackle.
Fans can take solace in the assurance of the other three. Elflein had a solid rookie season, starting all but two games at center. Easton showed himself to be a surprisingly effective pass blocker at left guard with decent athleticism. And Reiff, well, he looked to be the best offseason acquisition of them all at left tackle before taking a bit of a dip in the second half of the season. Still, all three are virtual locks to start at their positions and two of them are young enough where fans can expect continued development.
The Vikings are likely to keep around nine linemen on the roster. The five starters, the rookie O’Neill and the aforementioned Isidora and Compton are essentially locks. The last spot is open to a couple guys. Colby Gossett is a rookie drafted in the sixth round out of Appalachian State. He certainly looks the part as he measured at 6-foot-5, 311 pounds and amassed 32 reps on the bench at the combine. But he is also a marginal athlete, something that would hamper him considerably in the Vikings’ offense.
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The other guy is Aviante Collins. Fans know Collins one of two ways: either as the jovial locker mate of Brian Robison in the “96 Questions” series on YouTube or as the occasional jumbo package tight end. The latter is not the most prestigious of roles, but it is one that allowed Collins to see the field in three games last season. Now, how much upside he has in the NFL is to be seen and the battle between him and Gossett may ultimately come down to age and the unknown. Gossett is two years younger and has zero experience in the league. That may, in the long run, play to his favor when trying to make the 53-man roster.
Last season, Rick Spielman took a big gamble by cutting loose veteran linemen and completely reshaping the offensive line. The gamble ultimately paid off, as the unit went from one of the worst in 2016 to a middle-of-the-road group last year. They finished 16th in STATS’ protection index, ran the ball effectively and were an effective piece of the Vikings’ offensive resurgence. However, they also ran into a number of injuries. Elflein and Easton both suffered significant injuries that cost them multiple games.
Which is why the Vikings’ choice to stay middling with their line this offseason was a little surprising. Spielman made no drastic additions, either through the draft or free agency. The only new faces on the projected roster are O’Neill, Compton and maybe Gossett. None of those guys are with the first team entering camp.
Another wrinkle into the line situation is the quarterback behind them. Cousins is not as mobile as Case Keenum and Keenum’s maneuverability bailed out the line on a number of occasions. This is clear by the discrepancy between the times they allowed pressure (198, tied-eighth-most) and the number of sacks (27, tied-25th-most). Cousins faced significantly less pressure in Washington last year but was sacked 14 more times. Like it or not, that will play a part in the line’s perceived performance.
That being said, an additional year of development for Easton, Elflein and Hill could go a long way. Two of those players were undrafted, yet they have already worked their way into starting roles. Now, with O’Neill waiting in the wings, who knows how long they have those roles locked in. But for now, there is promise with the youthful line.
Final Spring Evaluation
The Vikings had a solid yet unspectacular unit coming into the offseason and they enter camp with similar value. The line is certainly good enough to anchor a top-10 offense seeing as they did so in 2017. They are good enough to be a part of a championship-caliber roster, which the Vikings have around them. However, they will not be the featured player on said elite roster like the line in Dallas. Rather, they are a solid supporting player. As long as they remain effective, the Vikings will be in good position to maintain their offensive balance and keep their prized quarterback upright.