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Spielman: Offensive line will be priority in free agency, draft for Vikes

Offensive line monopolized Vikings general manager Rick Spielman's media bull session Thursday with the team vetting its roster for free agency comings and goings while preparing for the NFL draft in two months.

2332889+NFL Vikings Matt Kalil black white.jpg
Minnesota Vikings tackle Matt Kalil’s future status with the team is a major question mark as the team prepares for NFL free agency and the draft. (Photo by Bruce Kluckhorn - USA Today Sports)

Offensive line monopolized Vikings general manager Rick Spielman’s media bull session Thursday with the team vetting its roster for free agency comings and goings while preparing for the NFL draft in two months.

From new position coach Tony Sparano’s influence and Matt Kalil’s haphazard development, to John Sullivan and Phil Loadholt’s rehabilitation from 2015 season-snuffing injuries, the embattled unit is under heavy scrutiny as Minnesota seeks maximum protection for quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

Loadholt had Achilles’ surgery, Sullivan a lower-back operation. The veteran starters continue rehabilitation, though Spielman offered no timeline for their recovery or whether they will be able to participate in offseason workouts and minicamps.

“We’re just monitoring their rehab,” Spielman said. “I don’t want to put a time frame on them on when or when not. They had significant injuries. I know they’re working extremely hard to get back. We’ll have to wait and see until the doctors fully clear them.”

The Vikings, who finished 11-5 and won the NFC North Division in 2015, fired offensive line coach Jeff Davidson after their wild-card playoff loss to Seattle.

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Loadholt’s injury thrust rookie right tackle T.J. Clemmings into a starting role with mixed results. Kalil stabilized at left tackle following a disastrous 2014 season, but his play remains inconsistent.

Joe Berger was a serviceable replacement for Sullivan at center. Brandon Fusco was moved to left guard and played well, as did journeyman Mike Harris at right guard.

Still, the Vikings allowed 44 sacks - tied with Miami for eighth-most in the league.

Sparano, a former Dolphins head coach, was hired after coaching tight ends in San Francisco and the offensive line for the Oakland Raiders.

“Tony has a very clear picture of the type of offensive line he’s looking for and the type that he has had success with in his career,” Spielman said. “So we have a pretty clear picture of the traits we’re looking for.”

The Vikings have the No. 23 pick in the first round of the April 28-30 NFL draft. Spielman said there is deep talent among offensive linemen in this year’s class. However, with more college teams running spread offenses, fewer linemen have experience playing pro-style offenses.

“The more position flexibility they have, the more valuable a guy is,” he said.

The front office has met with coach Mike Zimmer’s staff to evaluate the Vikings’ pending free agents and players the team might acquire when the new league year commences in March. Player personnel meetings have started in preparation for next week’s scouting combine in Indianapolis.

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Here are highlights from Spielman’s 40-minute interview session:

On what he learned about Bridgewater’s progression:

“The biggest thing that you want to see is maybe him letting it loose a little more. I don’t want to call him cautious, but he took very good care of the ball because we don’t want to turn the ball over. Just letting it loose a little more, giving some guys a chance to make plays even though it may not look like it’s open. I think that comes with time, the more and more the quarterbacks are in the league.”

On how the offensive line play affected Bridgewater:

“I’m never going to make an excuse for being shorthanded because I thought Joe Berger stepped in and played very well, even though we lost Sullivan. T.J. had his ups and downs as a rookie, but we have high expectations on him. Those meetings are very up front and honest because I think I’ve got to be honest with myself. Coaches have to be honest, scouts have to be honest that this guy is good enough or not good enough, or he didn’t play, can he play good again? Or has he just hit the wall and he’s done and we’ve got to move on?”

On Kalil:

“Matt’s probably been up and down. I thought he bounced back and played better this year. Still, there’s nothing from the physical standpoint that I think he can’t do. I think he still could be a solid left tackle in this league, and he’s just got to continue to work on his consistency.”

On whether Cordarrelle Patterson has exhausted his potential at wide receiver:

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“Don’t know that yet. I think this will be a telltale year, I would say.”

On whether kicker Blair Walsh will face competition:

“No, Blair Walsh is our kicker. I mean, I understand him missing that last kick, but I also know we wouldn’t have been in that situation if he didn’t kick the three before in the (cold and windy) conditions (that day). So I think our organization, our coaches and everybody, has confidence in Blair.”

On veteran linebacker Chad Greenway, a pending free agent:

“I had a very good conversation with Chad after the season, and we’ll have a few more, I’m sure, conversations and with his agent before we get to the new league year.”

On whether Terence Newman still wants to play and whether it would be safety:

“I think Terence still wants to play. I think Terence is a corner.”

On whether receiver Mike Wallace still is a fit:

“Yeah, we’ve talked about Mike. Mike may not have had the production that he envisioned or we envisioned when he came in, but his leadership, his work ethic, how he took some of those young guys under his wing, were all A-plus.”

Related Topics: MINNESOTA VIKINGS
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