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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Notebook: Vikings balance urgency and patience in repairing offensive line

By Andrew Krammer

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Mike Zimmer didn’t hesitate.

Changing the offensive line’s leader was the first move in Zimmer’s third offseason as head coach of the Minnesota Vikings. Within four days in January, the Vikings lost a wild-card playoff game to the Seattle Seahawks, fired offensive line coach Jeff Davidson and hired Tony Sparano.

And when general manager Rick Spielman and Vikings scouts settled in to prepare for next week’s NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, they began with offensive draft prospects. When asked Thursday what the Vikings need most to improve, Spielman brought up more consistency from running back Adrian Peterson’s blockers and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s protectors.

Seahawks defenders racked up at least seven tackles for losses and seven quarterback hits in the Vikings’ playoff loss last month. Between the two Vikings-Seahawks meetings, both losses for Minnesota, Seattle’s defensive line alone levied 10 hits on Bridgewater. Improving the offensive line should be one of the Vikings’ top priorities as a critical element in their Super Bowl hopes.

They have the 23rd-overall pick in April’s NFL Draft.

“I think it’ll be a pretty deep [offensive line] class,” Spielman told local beat writers on Thursday. “You’re looking at all these [offensive tackles], and are they potential swing guys inside that can play guard? He’s playing left tackle in college, can he be a right tackle? There were tackles at the Senior Bowl where we got exposure to them as guards. There’s plenty of examples in the NFL — Scherff from Iowa was a left tackle and swung inside to guard. Zack Martin. Even the small-school kid, Ali Marpet from Tampa, he was a left tackle.”

Spielman has a few important decisions to make before they’re on the clock.

The Vikings have to balance patience with urgency, Spielman said, specifically as they await the physical rehabilitation of veterans in center John Sullivan and right tackle Phil Loadholt. Both suffered potentially debilitating injuries last fall and carry big contracts. They also have to be patient with their young players, including last year’s uneven rookie right tackle T.J. Clemmings. The style of play in college football has also been a hindrance on prospects’ readiness for the NFL, according to Spielman.

“Just in general, offensive linemen take a little longer to develop,” he said. “It’s just the way the game has developed in college. I don’t think it’s anyone’s fault. With the restrictions we have with the CBA, and our coaches being able to take guys that come from spread offenses — 99.9 percent of the time they’re working out of a 2-point stance — to teach them how to get into a 3-point stance, how to run block. That takes time and development But we have such limited time with them now the way the CBA is, I think offensive linemen they’re going to take some time.”

Patience has paid off before for the Vikings. Under Spielman, they’ve seen unheralded draft prospects turn into solid NFL starters such as Sullivan, who was a sixth-round pick (187th overall) in 2008. Or guard Brandon Fusco, a sixth-round pick (172nd overall) in 2011 who didn’t play much in his rookie season. They claimed guard Mike Harris off waivers in 2014, and he’s started 21 games in the two seasons since.

Though the big leap to NFC North champions has only heightened the urgency to repair an offensive line that certainly didn’t help Bridgewater’s development.

“A lot of the stuff we tried to do this year was accumulate as many as these young guys as we can and keep as many as we can,” Spielman said. “I mean we got [Nick] Easton from San Fran, we got [Jeremiah] Sirles from Nebraska. I’m always going to try to keep shuffling these offensive linemen in…so you got to constantly turn that position over and constantly keep finding the right combination of guys.”

‘Telltale year’

Cordarrelle Patterson caught two passes during the 2015 season.

Patterson’s fall from grace on offense hit rock bottom last year as he was an afterthought in a passing attack that needed playmakers. Spielman offloaded a handful of picks to move back into 2013’s first round for Patterson, a dynamic talent who has yet to develop as a NFL receiver. Spielman has to decide on a trio of fifth-year options this spring, including Patterson. Though he hinted the Vikings may need only one more year to decide on his future in Minnesota.

“I think this will be a telltale year, I would say,” Spielman said.

Patterson is one of the NFL’s top kick returners, leading the league with a 31.8-yard average and two returns for touchdowns. But he has frustrated coaches with head-scratching acts that include headbutting Packers kicker Mason Crosby, which drew a flag in the Vikings’ Nov. 22 loss to Green Bay.

Asked if he’d like to see Patterson used more on offense, Spielman deferred to the coaching staff. As a rookie, Patterson accounted for seven touchdowns under former offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave. He has just two touchdowns in two years under offensive coordinator Norv Turner.

“I leave that up to the coaches,” Spielman said. “I don’t think there’s any question about Cordarrelle as an athlete and what he does with the ball in his hands, but those are decisions that the coaching staff has to make. They get paid to put the best guys out there on the field that gives us the best opportunity to win, and I trust them 100 percent when they make those decisions on what we need to win on game days.”

Talks ongoing

Headlining the Vikings’ pending free agent class are two veterans that contributed a lot for the defense last season.

Linebacker Chad Greenway has already expressed his intent for an 11th season in Minnesota, while cornerback Terence Newman hasn’t publicly said if he wants to return for a 14th NFL season.

Spielman said he’s under the impression Newman wants to play in 2016, adding that he thinks he’s a cornerback, not a safety. Newman made an emergency start at safety last season.

“We’ll discuss and have a lot of talks with the agents on our team and then the process will continue as we get up through that negotiation period and before the market kicks off,” Spielman said. “We have plenty of time between now and then. Got kind of a gameplan in my head at this point, but that’ll change I think as we talk to these agents and get a feel for where their clients are and what they want to do.”

No competition

Blair Walsh led the NFL in field goals made, but his final attempt will be the lowlight of his 2015 campaign. In what has already been turned into a Madden joke, Walsh pushed a potentially game-winning, 27-yard field goal wide left in the Vikings’ 10-9 playoff loss to Seattle.

There won’t be another kicker in training camp this summer, according to Spielman.

“No, Blair Walsh is our kicker,” Spielman said. “I mean, I understand him missing that last kick, but I also know we wouldn’t have been in that situation if he didn’t kick the three before in the conditions. So I think our organization, our coaches and everybody, has confidence in Blair.”

The post Notebook: Vikings balance urgency and patience in repairing offensive line appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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