For years, the Vikings have entered the offseason with a “wait and see” approach to the offensive line. Maybe Tom Compton will hold the starting job, maybe Danny Isidora will unseat him. Maybe Rashod Hill will take a step and become a permanent starting tackle, maybe not. Or maybe filling gaps with savvy veterans will make all the difference, your Joe Bergers, your Alex Boones. Well, this year, things seem drastically different. Youth is starting to take a hold of the line, and for once, there is a bit of excitement with the group.
That starts with Garrett Bradbury. The first round pick is the epitome of a dazzling lineman, if such a thing exists. He is athletic to the nth degree, powerful through his trunk and has a knack for making even the most stout defensive tackles look pedestrian. Look no further than his battle against Clemson last season. Keep in mind, the Tigers had three defensive linemen go in the first round this year. Bradbury surrendered no ground to any of them.
Blockers are rarely fun to watch. Their job is inherently boring, clearing the runway for the true stars of the show. And yet, few things get social media going like a good, dominant, destructive block in space. Quenton Nelson had perhaps the most passed around video last season when he demolished Barry Church.
Barry Church, meet Quenton Nelson. pic.twitter.com/LwsAX1UQ99— Derek Tyson (@DerekJTyson) November 11, 2018
While Bradbury is more explosive than destructive, he has that sort of ability to make defenders look silly in space. With him leading the pack, and Pat Elflein alongside him, the Vikings interior line figures to do some damage in the screen game.
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But the bigger question is pass protection. Is the addition of Bradbury, the corresponding shift of Elflein and the addition of Josh Kline enough to keep Kirk Cousins comfortable? Bradbury’s tape would certainly lend credence to that hope. While his relatively smaller stature can give ground to bull rushes, his quick feet and anchor almost always allows for a reset. Therefore, there should not be much question about his ability in that area.
Brian O’Neill carries similar excitement in year two. Like Bradbury, he was arguably the star of the combine at his position, and that athleticism translated to early playing time and a solid rookie season. And while Riley Reiff is a veteran and can be come and go, he has generally been one of the more reliable pass blockers on the team.
As for Elflein and Kline, there are more questions. Elflein played guard most of his college career, but has yet to do it in the NFL. And Kline was a better run blocker than pass blocker in his pre-Vikings career. As such, the Vikings could be banking on Bradbury’s expertise quite a bit in the passing game. Time will tell.
The real wild card in all of this is Dru Samia. As a fourth-round pick this year, he does not necessarily project to start right off the bat, but his fit in the Vikings offense is intriguing. Samia is a zone specialist with an excellent combination of size and athleticism. While he did not test like Bradbury at the combine, he has light, quick feet and excellent feel for angles in the zone game.
For now, Kline and Elflein are probably penciled in as starters. But Samia could surprise like Elflein did his rookie season and force himself into the starting lineup. System may ultimately be the deciding factor. While in Tennessee, Kline did not handle the switch from power scheme to zone scheme all that well, so Samia may actually have the edge in experience in that regard.
That aside, the Vikings have clearly favored athleticism the last few years as they rebuild the offensive line. As such, they look on paper to have an exciting, spread-’em-out zone rushing attack cooking. And with their talent at running back, Kevin Stefanski could have an enticing run game on his hands.
–Sam Smith is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Vikings and Deputy Editor for Full Press NFL. Like and Follow @samc_smith.
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