Vikings: All options on table to fix offensive line

By Brian Murphy St. Paul Pioneer Press MINNEAPOLIS -- Not one starting offensive lineman waded into the Vikings locker room Monday during the media hour, unable or unwilling to say anything about an atrocious performance everybody was talking about.

By Brian Murphy

St. Paul Pioneer Press

MINNEAPOLIS - Not one starting offensive lineman waded into the Vikings locker room Monday during the media hour, unable or unwilling to say anything about an atrocious performance everybody was talking about.

Coach Mike Zimmer did not rule out lineup changes to the enigmatic unit, which yielded eight sacks in Sunday’s 17-3 loss to Detroit and has been under siege all season.

“We’re evaluating all of that and I’m not opposed to it,” Zimmer said after a sobering film review. “It’s a tough call, but we have to do what we feel like is best for the football team. It doesn’t mean we’re going to make any; it just means we’re continually giving guys opportunity.


“I still feel like if guys perform, then they should have the opportunity to continue to play; and if not, then we need to look at options.”

Options include veteran center Joe Berger, who has played both guard positions, and swing tackle Mike Harris, claimed off waivers from San Diego on Aug. 31.

Rookie guard David Yankey has been inactive all six weeks, while rookie tackle Austin Wentworth has only been active for three.

None has the experience or cachet of starting left guard Charlie Johnson, right tackle Phil Loadholt, center John Sullivan or left tackle Matt Kalil, whose ongoing struggles at the most pivotal position have become chronic.

Pass protection is at a premium with rookie Teddy Bridgewater learning how to quarterback on the fly. The Vikings have allowed more sacks (14) than they have scored points (13) the past two weeks.

Only the Jacksonville Jaguars (27) have allowed more sacks than Minnesota (21).

Of all the brush fires Zimmer has scrambled to extinguish during his debut season, the offensive line’s meltdown is the most unexpected and unnerving.

“I anticipated that our offensive line would be a strength,” he said.


All five starters returned in 2014 as the team incorporated a diversified passing attack under new offensive coordinator Norv Turner to its conventional ground game.

Deeper drop backs to support an aggressive downfield passing game and longer check downs require stronger and more mobile protection schemes to maintain a clean pocket.

But Adrian Peterson was banished after Week 1 to defend himself in Texas against a child abuse charge. Two weeks later, right guard Brandon Fusco, arguably the team’s most consistent offensive lineman, suffered a season-ending pectoral injury in the same loss at New Orleans that ended quarterback Matt Cassel’s season because of a broken foot.

Vlad Ducasse, signed as a free agent from the New York Jets, has been penalized four times in Fusco’s absence, three times for holding.

The Vikings lead the NFL with 12 false-start penalties, nine by offensive linemen. Moreover, the unit has accounted for 30 percent of Minnesota’s 43 penalties.

“I feel like we have the ability and the talent to become better than what we have,” Zimmer said. “Whether it’s viable options or the guys we have in there, we have the ability to do it. Are we getting it done? No. The guys overall are not bad football players; they’re just not playing real good right now.”

The Lions’ ferocious front four dominated Minnesota’s offensive line. They rarely blitzed because their four down linemen, led by tackle Ndamukong Suh (two sacks) and end Ezekiel Ansah (2-1/2) collapsed Bridgewater’s pocket so effectively they could afford to drop seven defenders into pass coverage.

Detroit played with the lead the entire game, which allowed them to attack. That’s nothing new for the Vikings, who have allowed first-drive touchdowns in three of their past four losses.


All of which puts more pressure on Bridgewater to throw without a reliable running game or protection. Zimmer attributed two sacks to blown protection schemes and his quarterback holding onto the ball too long.

“If we have a cleaner pocket, it would sure help,” he said. “If we had guys open it would help. If we ran the ball better it would help.”

Harris, who replaced an injured Loadholt for one snap Week 4 against Atlanta, said the offensive line owns its mistakes and is working to “take the team on our shoulders.”

“It’s been hard. We haven’t been able to do the things we want to do on offense,” he said. “It really comes down to O-line play; we’ve got to step our game up.”

Harris was uncertain what that meant for him.

“Each week I prepare like I’m going to start,” said Harris, who started 12 of 20 games in two seasons with the Chargers. “Hopefully this week I get more opportunities. I just want to do my part to help the team win. I feel like I’m good enough. It’s a long season. Things happen.”

The Pioneer Press is in a media partnership with Forum News Service







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