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Bleacher Report – Vikings

What can the Vikings learn from the Patriots’ offensive line fix

By Matthew Coller

Tom Brady did his best, but the Denver Broncos’ defense was just too much for the battered New England Patriots offensive line in the 2015 AFC Championship game.

The Patriots were a mess up front last year with nine different offensive linemen playing more than 400 snaps – and that doesn’t include tight end Asante Cleveland, who mixed in at guard and tackle.

Pro Football Focus ranked the 2015 Patriots offensive line 31st in the NFL in pass blocking. Even the great Brady was impacted by the struggles up front.

The year, the Patriots shot up to 10th in PFF rankings.

The Minnesota Vikings desperately need their offensive line to see a similar turnaround.

Offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia has been given a great deal of credit for the progress of guard Shaquille Mason, a fourth-round pick in 2015 who was forced into duty as a rookie and struggled. Mason was rated by PFF as one of of the worst guards in the NFL with a 50.7 rating in ’15, but was 15th in the league this year with an 84.1.

Right tackle Marcus Cannon, the eighth ranked tackle in the league by PFF, also has made great progress. He was drafted in the fifth round back in 2011, but was predominantly a backup for the first four years of his career until being pressed into action in 2015 for eight starts. This year, Cannon started 15 games.

The lesson here might simply be that it takes time to become a good offensive lineman. Even former No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher was rated as one of the worst in the league over his first two years before emerging in the last two seasons. Vikings tackle Matt Kalil, who had a Pro Bowl rookie season then faded, it not the norm.

New England could have looked for other options when they lost Sebastian Vollmer, a veteran right tackle, for the year, but they went to Cannon, who they had been grooming. Minnesota has two tackles who were drafted in the later rounds on pure upside, TJ Clemmings and Willie Beavers. The key for the Pats was spotting that Cannon had a chance to be good and sticking with him.

“He practices extremely hard,” Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels told NESN. “He studies. He prepares. He listens intently to the coaching that he’s receiving. (Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia) has worked with him for years, and he’s done a tremendous job.”

The Vikings have to determine whether Clemmings and Beavers have tendencies that indicate they could be good players. That seems like a long shot with both considering Clemmings did not show any improvement from Year 1 to Year 2, grading as the league’s worst tackle, and Beavers was cut in preseason, only to be brought back later on the practice squad and eventually elevated to the active roster.

The long term plan in the draft should be to select linemen in the later rounds, then let them learn and progress.

In 2015, the Patriots were without left tackle Nate Solder for 80% of their total snaps and the results were crushing. You can’t exactly learn from an offensive line being healthy, but the value becomes obvious when you consider the Patriots and their Super Bowl foe Atlanta Falcons ranked No. 1 and No. 3 in the fewest different offensive line combinations.

Also, left tackles are worth paying big money. Solder is the second highest paid Patriot and that’s no mistake.

The other New England O-line note that stands out is that center David Andrews is ranked 24th of 38 centers. The Houston Texans attacked Andrews in the divisional game, but the Pats still came out on top. Does this indicate that the Vikings should move Joe Berger to guard and either play Nick Easton or find another center? Berger was one of the best centers in the league this year, but his value may be higher as a guard.

A little bit of depth doesn’t hurt, either. Backup tackle Cameron Fleming Started five games for the Patriots this season and scored a solid 71.1 on PFF’s ratings. Fleming is a restricted free agent this year and might be an option.

Vikings GM Rick Spielman has acknowledged that fixing the offensive line will be a top priority. The Patriots didn’t exactly lay out a blueprint, but their success shows that building a good O-line takes money and patience.

The post What can the Vikings learn from the Patriots’ offensive line fix appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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