Before Minnesota Vikings training camp began, Phil Loadholt announced his retirement from the NFL. Despite that, the Vikings offensive line looked to be deep in both experience and depth, at least on paper. The five men in place to start on the offensive line were Matt Kalil, Brandon Fusco, Mike Harris, T.J. Clemmings. In addition, John Sullivan was returning after missing all of 2015. The Vikings then went out and got Alex Boone and Andre Smith, two longtime veterans in free agency.
Preseason Offensive Line Injuries Won’t Haunt The Minnesota Vikings
Now fast forward two weeks into training camp. The outlook for the Vikings line still looks better than 2015 despite a growing list of injuries. It was expected that Harris was going to compete with Fusco for the starting job at right guard (Fusco struggled mightily at left guard last season). However, Harris who started all 16 games at right guard in 2015, has been sidelined since the beginning of camp with a head injury. Harris wasn’t even sure if he’d be able to play in 2016. Now the incumbent at right guard will be Fusco, or so we thought.
On August 7, Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer announced that Fusco would be sidelined with an undisclosed injury. Zimmer said Fusco would not be sidelined long but both injuries to Harris and Fusco has forced Zimmer to put the starting spot at center battle on hold and slide Joe Berger over to right guard.
Next while incumbent starting center Sullivan has yet to suffer any serious setbacks in his ninth preseason with Vikings, he is a very large risk as he competes with a surgically repaired back.
The arrival of Alex Boone has brought a new attitude to the Vikings, especially if you saw Boone’s recent comments about former college teammate Terrelle Pryor. Boone not only bolsters a massive 6’8″ and 310 pound frame; he also a loud personality to change the locker room mood of a struggling offensive line. Mike Zimmer already looked to him as a leader. That’s why the Vikings gave him a four-year contract worth $26.8 million. In addition, Mike Zimmer also found himself a new offensive line coach by hiring Tony Sparano. He began his coaching career as an offensive line coach in New Haven, CT.
All things considered, despite the Vikings line troubles this preseason, it is like night and day compared to last season. Last season the Vikings mixed and matched ending up with a starting offensive line of Kalil, Fusco, Berger, Harris, and Clemmings after the Loadholt and Sullivan injuries. The line in 2015 did end up playing well as the Vikings ranked 4th in rushing and only allowed 45 sacks. But nobody could have predicted that a career journeyman at center and a rookie at right tackle would perform as well as they did.
This preseason, Vikings fans should be able to go home happy after training camp, barring any injuries. First off, Teddy Bridgewater gets his center in Sullivan back, newcomer Boone has changed the mood in the locker room. In addition, Clemmings is being moved to left tackle to compete with a struggling Kalil, and if Clemmings performs, it might be easier for the Vikings to part ways with Kalil after 2016 and shed money. We’ve already seen Kalil show signs of concern as defensive end Everson Griffen has been nightmare for Kalil this preseason. For now however, the Vikings only concern is getting the passing game going and staying healthy.