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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Training camp preview: Vikings offensive linemen

By Andrew Krammer

Editor’s note: Leading up to Vikings training camp, 1500ESPN.com will break down each position group based on offseason practice observations and interviews.

Previously:
Running backs
Quarterbacks
Tight ends
Receivers

Current players (16)

On the team: OT Matt Kalil, G Alex Boone

Good bet: C John Sullivan, C/G Joe Berger, OT Andre Smith, OT T.J. Clemmings

On the bubble: OT Phil Loadholt, G Brandon Fusco, G Willie Beavers, G/T Mike Harris

Outside looking in: OT Carter Bykowski, C Zac Kerin, OL Austin Shepherd, OL Jeremiah Sirels, C Nick Easton, G Isame Faciane

State of the position

Kalil (6-7, 317). He enjoyed his first surgery-free offseason since 2013, married in St. Paul and hopes to earn a long-term contract extension in Minnesota. Kalil is set to earn $11.096 million on a fifth-year option, which can be even more valuable if he parlays that into a new deal. Fewer issues with his knees resulted in improved play last season, though he’s yet to regain his Pro Bowl form. Boone (6-8, 310) joins first-year offensive line coach Tony Sparano as the main additions. Boone signed a four-year, $26.8 million contract with a $10 million signing bonus during free agency. He’s known for an outspoken, ‘nasty’ mentality, one Mike Zimmer wants more of in his offensive line. Boone will start at left guard after Fusco and Charlie Johnson struggled there in consecutive seasons. Fusco (6-4, 306) moves back to right guard and will compete with Harris (6-5, 338), who has started 22 games during two seasons in Minnesota. Fusco had a disappointing season, especially in pass protection, and hopes the move back will make him the player “I once was.

Sullivan (6-4, 310) underwent two back surgeries last year and, as recently as Thursday, said he expects his back to remain healthy during training camp. It will be the first time he’s donned pads and participated in full contact since suffering the herniated disc last summer. He’s set to make $5.4 million, none guaranteed. Berger (6-5, 305) is coming off a strong season filling in for Sullivan. He has started 26 games in the last two seasons and remains a valuable interior backup at age 34.

Loadholt (6-8, 345) enters his eighth season with the Vikings on perhaps the shakiest ground. He agreed to a pay cut that dropped his base salary to $2 million with an additional incentives after consecutive season-ending injuries forced him to miss 22 games in the past two seasons. He’s competing for right tackle with Smith (6-4, 325), who signed a one-year, $3.5 million in free agency. The former Bengals’ sixth-overall pick has started 73 games in seven NFL seasons. Clemmings (6-5, 309) began working as the second-team left tackle this spring. After 17 starts as a rookie, he continued to work at right tackle and may be a top candidate for swing tackle.

Beavers (6-5, 322) was drafted in the fourth round and transitioned from college tackle to right guard with the Vikings’ second unit this spring. Bykowski (6-7, 313) returns from a torn pectoral muscle suffered last summer. It’ll be tough for Bykowski and others in a crowded room in which seven or eight of them might not make the final roster. That goes for Shepherd (6-4, 327), who appeared in 10 games as a rookie, mainly as an extra lineman in jumbo formations. Kerin (6-5, 305) might need an injury to crack a particularly crowded interior. Sirles (6-6, 315) was inactive all 17 games last season. Practice squad holdover Faciane (6-4, 302) is in his second year at guard after moving from the defensive line.

Top competition

Plenty of playing time is up for grabs, particularly at right guard and right tackle. There’s a question mark at center because of Sullivan’s health, but if he returns to form he should be a lock to regain his starting role. Fusco and Harris, as well as Loadholt and Smith, will have to edge one another for their own playing time.

Telling

“I’m a no nonsense guy. I’m easy to read that way. I don’t believe a lot in excuses. I don’t believe a lot in making them one way or the other. And I demand a lot from them. My experiences have been, in this league, when you demand a lot from them, you know, they’ll give it to you.” — Tony Sparano in June

Looking ahead

Mike Zimmer’s number one priority for a Vikings offense plagued by poor protection was to improve the line. Moving forward, they’ll have plenty of flexibility to continue changing it. Only half of the Vikings’ 16 offensive linemen are signed beyond this season.That’s not including Kalil, the fourth-overall pick from 2012. Solid left tackles command top dollar and it’d be another bill for the Vikings to foot should Kalil earn a long-term deal. The alternative is restarting the unenviable search for a franchise left tackle. Boone may be the only long-term piece to build around, depending on Sullivan’s return and whether or not Fusco improves back on the right side. Also entering contract years are Loadholt, Smith, Berger and Harris. Three of those four linemen will be 30 years or older when their current contracts expire.

The post Training camp preview: Vikings offensive linemen appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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