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Bleacher Report – Vikings

What can we learn from Week 17 about the right side of the Vikings’ O-line?

By Matthew Coller

If all the world’s best NFL draft analysts had been given $100 to bet on the Minnesota Vikings’ pick at No. 30, the overwhelming money would have been on an offensive lineman.

Instead they surprised experts by grabbing University of Central Florida cornerback Mike Hughes and waiting until Day 2 to address the hole on the right side of the O-line left by Joe Berger’s retirement. But Day 2 didn’t go as expected. Linemen, especially guards, flew off the board early — a result Vikings’ GM Rick Spielman said he couldn’t remember seeing before.

When the dust settled, the Vikings picked a high-ceiling tackle with little-to-no shot of starting right away. Combined with a weak free agent market for linemen, overall the Vikings came away from the 2018 offseason down one starter.

Now it appears that veteran tackle Mike Remmers will move inside to right guard and Rashod Hill will be pushed into the spotlight at one of the league’s most challenging positions.

The O-line’s right side played together a grand total of one time last year, in Week 17 against the Chicago Bears. In total, Remmers played one regular season game and two playoff games at guard (two on the left side), which were his first two games at the position of his career. Hill played seven games.

Remmers said last year’s emergency move due to a Nick Easton injury gave him a head start on this season’s assignment.

“It helped build my confidence,” Remmers said.

The Vikings signed Remmers prior to the 2017 season to start at right tackle, where he graded favorably by Pro Football Focus in six of 10 starts. His lone appearance at right guard resulted in Remmers’ second lowest single-game grade.

Part of the reason for his up-and-down performance was the competition. While the Bears weren’t a strong team overall in ’17, defensive tackle Akiem Hicks was a force.

USA Football offensive/defensive line analyst Brandon Thorn watched back Week 17 and liked a lot of what he saw from Remmers as a run blocker.

“In the run game [Remmers] is going to be good right away,” Thorn said in a Purple Podcast appearance. “He stepped in Week 17 against excellent competition and was pretty good, so I don’t have a lot of concerns there.”

Watch Brandon break down Mike Remmers in the run game here…

Remmers has moved positions before. He was pushed from right tackle to left tackle during his final year with the Carolina Panthers. Speaking at Vikings minicamp, the veteran tackle made it clear he won’t be protesting the move inside.

“I like the position a lot,” Remmers said. “It’s definitely helped me understand the offense better playing guard. Seeing what it feels like, seeing what things look like, so I’ve been enjoying it.”

Thorn says Remmers’ skillset and mentality are both fit for guard.

“Aside from having that strength and being competitively tough, he’s a very chippy, scrappy kind of guy,” Thorn said. “Him and Hicks get into it and they have a lot of stalemates. So to have that attitude and also that mentality and the strength and then the leverage, pad level and hand placement to get into Hicks and stalemate him multiple times, I know that’s what they liked on his tape watching him with the Panthers before they signed him. That’s how he won as a player. That’s where he makes his money, in the run game. Then also mental processing, for sure. He just constantly makes the right decisions and diagnoses things quickly.”

As you can see in the video below, Remmers will have to make improvements as a pass protector. He allowed three QB hurries in Week 17, which was his lowest graded game by PFF as a pass blocker.

In breaking down this play, Thorn said: “He doesn’t get a good pass set at all, he engages [Hicks] with a flat, square base and you don’t really have a lot of room to mess up there. Hicks puts a quick arm on him and it’s over. Time in practice will be invaluable.”

The Vikings’ starting right guard will be in for a tough set of matchups this year. He will play Hicks twice, Green Bay’s Mike Daniels twice, some combination of Ndamukong Suh and Aaron Donald with the Rams, Fletcher Cox in Philadelphia and DeForest Buckner in the opener against San Francisco.

Despite the hard road ahead, Thorn notes that Remmers’ intelligence should allow him to make adjustments as he gets more reps inside.

“Experience is something you can’t really teach, so it’s nice having that little experience [last year] under my belt and something for me to build on,” Remmers said.

The Vikings’ trust in Remmers as a guard is understandable considering he has 48 regular season and seven playoff starts under his belt.

Listen to Matthew and Brandon break down the right side of the Vikings’ O-line

Rashod Hill is a different story.

Picked up off the Jacksonville Jaguars’ practice squad in 2016, he earned the backup tackle position in training camp last year. He was pushed into action while Remmers was dinged up and started both playoff games at right tackle following Easton’s injury.

In eight regular season games in which he played at least half the game’s snaps, Hill allowed just one sack and graded positively in pass protection five times.

Head coach Mike Zimmer has praised Hill’s pass blocking on multiple occasions. Shutting down Lamar Houston in Week 17 likely played a role in Zimmer’s decision to start Hill in the playoffs.

“You can see in this game where there’s multiple instances where he gets his hands on Houston before Houston can get his hands on him and that results in him just pushing him past the pocket or sustaining the block to give the quarterback time. Plenty of examples of that,” Thorn said.

The video below gives one example of strong hand usage by Hill.

Hill’s solid regular season did not translate against the likes of Cam Jordan and Brandon Graham in the playoffs. In two games, he gave up one sack, three QB hits and 10 hurries, per PFF.

The 26-year-old from Southern Miss said in minicamp he took the lessons he learned in the playoffs and applied them to his offseason, working harder to be in NFL game shape.

“I learned about trusting your pass set,” Hill said. “Being in shape. I dropped 10 pounds from last year, trying to be in better shape this year. I look back at the Philly game, even the Saints game too, I got fatigued. Last year was my first actually starting and playing, so I know now what it takes to be in this league. I’m still learning but I know one thing is for sure, I’m not going to be out of shape.”

Based solely on his performance last season, it’s hard to make a great case for Hill as a 16-game starter, but part of the equation is the inexperienced tackle’s personality and ability to improve.

“I love Rashod,” Remmers said. “He’s not just a great teammate, but a great friend of mine. Our wives get along, so we hang out a lot outside of football. He’s a great dude and it’s a lot of fun playing next to him.”

“He’s a fighter,” Remmers added. “He goes out there every day and gives his all. He takes coaching well. Coaches tell him he’s doing something wrong and he corrects it the next day.”

The biggest concern with Hill is his run blocking.

In the video below, he struggles to get out of his stance quickly and work to the second level.

The issue, Thorn says, is something you hear about from coaches all the time: Pad level.

“You see consistently on the film, his pad level is so high that he’s unable to generate a lot of power or movement because you have to be kind of coiled and playing low so you can uncoil and unlock your hips into the block,” Thorn said. “If you’re already high at the point of attack, you have no power from your lower body and you see that a lot with Hill. He’s just trying to block guys with his hands and his arms…he just kind of tries to get in the way….I think he needs to totally revamp his technique as a run blocker.”

Hill said he believes that being in better shape and forming more chemistry with Remmers will help his run blocking performances.

“We have to run to win, it makes it easier instead of letting them pin their ears back and come at you,” Hill said. “Losing this weight, I feel like I can bend better, pull better. I am still working on getting adjusted to [playing with Remmers], last year I played with [Joe] Berger, so you always have to get adjusted to a new guy that you can learn from, so that’s my main thing and coming off the ball low and physical.”

Naturally there’s reasonable skepticism about how much better he can actually be.

“Increasing mobility in that area, that allows you to get lower and also being more cognizant of his pad level and trying to be deliberate in lowering his pads and playing at better leverage,
Thorn said. “I think if he does those things he will be significantly better. I’m still not sure how good he can be, I don’t think his ceiling is very high but those are some small things he can do.”

While improving his run blocking will be important — especially with Dalvin Cook returning from an ACL tear — Hill knows how he’s going to be graded: On whether Kirk Cousins has time to throw.

“We can speak the truth, Kirk is an $84 million guy, gotta keep him clean, man,” Hill said. “If I mess up an assignment one day, the next day I try to fix it. It’s the NFL, you know you can’t have too many mistakes or they’ll find another guy.”

But unless 62nd overall pick Brian O’Neill takes huge steps forward in training camp, there is no other guy. The Vikings could shuffle Remmers back out to tackle and start veteran Tom Compton or youngster Danny Isidora at guard.

If things stay the way they are, Thorn has trouble seeing the Vikings’ offensive line as above average in 2018.

“I think it’s going to be a little bit below what you had last year. Last year I thought the offensive line was in the top half of the NFL, somewhere in the 10-15 range. you’re probably going to be a little bit outside of that, closer to 20 or early 20s. I definitely don’t see a good offensive line right now,” Thorn said. “The two guards are solid at best, they can do the different things well. I expect [Nick] Easton to get better, Remmers to get better, so it could be pretty good there, but right tackle, I’d consider that a pretty big hole right now.

“When you play teams like the Eagles, Seahawks, teams like that, I don’t feel great about the offensive line, to be honest…Hill, that one worries me. There’s too much that I’m unsure of on that right side.”

The post What can we learn from Week 17 about the right side of the Vikings’ O-line? appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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