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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Zulgad: Vikings’ offensive three pack: Where did Wright go wrong?

By Judd Zulgad

The Vikings appeared headed for a second consecutive NFC North title when they entered their bye week with a 5-0 record.

But all that optimism went up in smoke after the players returned to Winter Park. Minnesota lost its first four games following the off week and won only three times the remainder of the season en route to an 8-8 finish.

That left the Vikings out of the playoffs and searching for answers in a season that had gone very wrong. General manager Rick Spielman, coach Mike Zimmer and the entire staff will spend the coming weeks evaluating and dissecting every single thing.

We won’t go quite as in-depth but over the next two days we’re going to look at three things on offense and defense that proved to be head-scratchers. Let’s start on the offensive side of the ball.

Why did Wright disappear?

Much has been made of the fact that first-round pick Laquon Treadwell caught only one pass and was targeted three times this season, but it also would be nice to find out why veteran wide receiver Jarius Wright became a non-factor.

A fourth-round pick by the Vikings in 2012, Wright was signed to a four-year, $14.8 million contract extension before the 2015 season. That came after the slot receiver caught a career-high 42 passes for 588 yards with two touchdowns in 16 games. Last season, Wright caught 34 passes for 442 yards in 16 games.

This year he disappeared.

Wright played in only eight games – his fewest since he played in seven as a rookie – and had a career-low 11 catches for 67 yards and one touchdown.

To put Wright’s lack of production, and opportunity, into perspective consider that he caught five passes for 24 yards and a touchdown in last Sunday’s victory over Chicago, a meaningless game that qualified as an exhibition contest. In games that counted, Wright had six receptions for 43 yards.

There will be some who point to the continued development of Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, along with the re-emergence of Cordarrelle Patterson, as reasons for Wright’s disappearance but it seemed as if Wright wasn’t in the Vikings’ plans from day one of the season.

Considering he had a pretty good track record with the organization, that qualified as a surprise.

A miscalculation at a key position

The Vikings entered training camp boasting about the competition that would occur at several positions on the offensive line. The thing that seemed curious was the fact that no one was brought in to push inconsistent left tackle Matt Kalil.

Kalil, the fourth-overall pick in 2012, had a very good rookie season but his play never reached taht high of level again. Nonetheless, the Vikings had picked up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract, meaning his base salary for this season would be $11.1 million. The salary assured Kalil of the starting job, but you would still think the team would have wanted someone who was competent at left tackle behind him.

Kalil hadn’t missed a start in his first four seasons, but he was no stranger to injuries and had procedures done on both knees after the 2014 season. If the Vikings plan was to hold their breath and hope Kalil stayed healthy, their luck ran out when Kalil underwent season-ending surgery to repair a labrum tear in his right hip following Minnesota’s victory over the Packers in Week 2.

This, of course, led the Vikings to move T.J. Clemmings from right to left tackle. Clemmings, who had come to camp as the Vikings’ swing tackled, had looked raw as a rookie playing on the right side in place of the injured Phil Loadholt in 2015.

He looked positively lost playing left tackle.

Clemmings made four starts before the Vikings attempted to fix their problem by signing veteran Jake Long off his couch on Oct. 11. Long played in four games, starting three, before suffering a torn left Achilles’ in a loss at Washington.

Clemmings returned to the left tackle spot and quarterback Sam Bradford was forced to live in fear that his blindside protection would implode any time he dropped back into the pocket. Watching Clemmings should have made Vikings fans long for the return of Kalil and that’s saying something.

Let’s be clear about this. Good left tackles are hard to find and among the most important members of an offense. The expectation was never that the Vikings would have a Pro Bowl backup for Kalil.

But given Kalil’s injury issues, it is inexplicable how general manager Rick Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer arrived in Mankato with Clemmings as their No. 2 option at such an important position.

What happened to Harris?

Mike Harris started 16 games at right guard last season for the Vikings and was expected to battle Brandon Fusco for that spot in training camp.

That competition never happened.

Harris opened training camp on the active/non-football illness list and was never removed from it. So what is wrong? That has remained a mystery for months and nobody is saying, including Harris and Zimmer.

All we know is Harris’ medical condition was diagnosed in June and he never participated in football activities after that. Harris expressed optimism this week that he will be able to play again, but it’s unclear if that is a realistic goal or wishful thinking.

Harris was solid at right guard and, given Fusco’s struggles, it’s almost certain Harris either would have won the job in training camp or replaced Fusco at some point during the season. Harris also can play right tackle so his versatility would have been welcomed when starting right tackle Andre Smith was lost because of a triceps injury in October.

Given how big of a mess the Vikings offensive line was this season, in part because of injury and in part because of ineptitude, Harris certainly could have helped.

The post Zulgad: Vikings’ offensive three pack: Where did Wright go wrong? appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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