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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Andre Smith sees opportunity in the Vikings’ retooled offensive line

By Andrew Krammer

Seats in the offensive line meeting room at Winter Park will be a little warmer this summer.

Repairing the line has been a top offseason priority for the Vikings, with Mike Zimmer’s eye on competition as the salve. The free agent additions of guard Alex Boone and tackle Andre Smith bring two experienced starters to a group returning 100 percent of last season’s snaps. That’s not including the potential return of two veterans in center John Sullivan and right tackle Phil Loadholt, who are both under contract but recovering from injuries. The latter is expected to compete with Smith, the sixth-overall pick from 2009 who signed a one-year deal last week to join the Vikings’ retooling project.

“I’m just trying to take advantage of what I have in front of me right now,” Smith said on a conference call with Twin Cities media. “Yeah, it’s a one-year deal, but it’s an opportunity for me to join a great team and I feel like I can make this team better.”

Smith, 29, was a five-year starter at right tackle for the Cincinnati Bengals. They let him walk in free agency after playing out a three-year, $18 million deal, though the writing was on the wall. Two years into that contract, the Bengals used their first two 2015 draft picks on offensive tackles. Health and consistency evaded Smith over his final snaps in Cincinnati. After missing seven games in 2014 due to a triceps injury, he reportedly dropped 23 pounds before last year’s training camp, telling the Cincinnati Inquirer he was “tired of being mediocre.”

Smith would start 14 games, deactivated twice due to a concussion. His play was enough to earn a one-year deal in Minnesota, where the Vikings gave him $1 million guaranteed on a $3.5 million contract. He can earn another $1 million through incentives. It’s more than the zero guaranteed Loadholt was given on a contract restructure this month as he heals from a torn left Achilles tendon suffered in August.

The Vikings have achieved the goal of creating a competitive environment. Including Loadholt and Smith, eight of the Vikings’ 14 offensive linemen are entering contract years in 2016.

There’s plenty of motivation to go around.

“They have some really good linemen there right now,” Smith said. “And I just want to come in and compete for a starting position…I like to think I can do it all pretty well. I feel like I can pass block with the best of them and I also feel like I can run block with the best of them.”

The Vikings’ shakeup this offseason, starting with a change at O-line coach, came after the group didn’t do enough for quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and running back Adrian Peterson last season. In the process, they’ve leaned on a veteran coaching staff’s wide reach in an aim to know their new investments. The hiring of Tony Sparano from San Francisco brought firsthand knowledge of Boone, formerly of the 49ers. While Smith, the ex-Bengal, said his relationship with Zimmer was a pull to Minnesota.

“I actually got to talk to coach Zimmer quite a few times early on in my career,” Smith said. “He was like a father figure, always telling me to work hard, to keep your head down, don’t pay attention to hte media and whatever they’re saying. He knows the kind of football player I am and he saw the growth in me as a man, from my younger years to maturing into the player I am now.”

With the competition at right tackle occupied by Smith, Loadholt and potentially Mike Harris, there’s expected to be a similar open race at right guard. Harris started 17 games there last season, and re-signed on a one-year deal worth $1.9 million this month. And Boone figures to bump Brandon Fusco back to the right, further crowding that side.

Smith said he’s open for guard too should the Vikings want to try his hand.

“I’ve always been taught, ‘The more you can do, the more possibilities of you staying around,’” Smith said. “So if they ask me to play another position, I’m all for it, whatever it is.”

The post Andre Smith sees opportunity in the Vikings’ retooled offensive line appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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