Vikings

VIKINGS TRAINING CAMP GUIDE: Interior Offensive Line

Photo Credit: Mark Konezny (USA Today Sports)

Rookie center Pat Elflein gave the Vikings a huge boost last season on the interior offensive line, while Nick Easton and Joe Berger held down the guard spots when healthy. With Berger retiring, the Vikings may move Mike Remmers from right tackle to right guard. Meanwhile, there will be stiff competition as several prospects vie for depth spots. A new position coach will be charged with developing this unit after the tragic death of offensive line coach Tony Sparano the Sunday before training camp.

presUMED STARTERS

[expand title=”NICK EASTON”]

After the Vikings surprisingly cut Alex Boone and installed Nick Easton as the starter, there’s been a bit of a sense that Easton could be replaced in the offseason – at least before Joe Berger retired and created a clearer hole at guard. Easton has a lot of room to grow and isn’t consigned to being a liability, but his status as a starter is well worth watching.

Strengths: Athletic center that shows great movement into the second level and down in zone blocks. Aims well blocking in the open field and on the move. Strong for his position with the ability to wrestle with nose tackles once if he gets his hands on early. Aggressive player that seeks out contact. Shows some really brilliant flashes of play. Keeps feet moving on contact. Great pad level. Good hand placement. Excellent pass blocking numbers – zero sacks, three hits and nine hurries allowed, seventh-best guard overall in pressures per snap.

Weaknesses: Significant problems as a run blocker. Often lost immediately and couldn’t get his hands up in time after the snap. Despite blocking well at second level, significant issues blocking up front. Needs to be more consistent about placing center of gravity; can fall when lunging or correcting on recovery. Seem susceptible to swim moves. Length concerns will make him vulnerable to players knowing how to exploit it. Occasional punch timing issues. Runs hot and cold, with streaks of play where he doesn’t demonstrate the technical soundness he showcases at his best. Lacked awareness of blitzes and stunts in 2017, which seems to be a new problem. Didn’t peel off of double-teams all that well or missed his assignments when he should have. Benefited from a lot of help in 2017; Elflein was more likely to double for Easton and leave Berger on an island.

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[expand title=”MIKE REMMERS”]

A return to the Minnesota Vikings for Mike Remmers produced fairly unspectacular results – though that’s not necessarily bad for an offensive lineman. Remmers gave up the fewest pressures per snap of the three Vikings players to play tackle and generally played to his scouting report: operating as a shutdown tackle on some days and a problem on others. It seems more and more likely that he’ll end up playing guard and in some ways that could suit him better than tackle, where he’s played most of his life.

Strengths: Plays with great pad level that emphasizes his strength, allowing him to be a bully in the running game. Can uncoil his hips and anchor against strong bull-rushers and he resets his feet to consistently gain advantage. Awkward kickstep won’t be an issue at guard, and his natural quickness will let him excel without worrying about that. Great second-level movement as well as agility. Second-level aiming is generally good, as are his reach and downblocks. Aggressive player that looks to punish defenders. Can take advantage of small imbalances in a defensive lineman’s game and send them to the ground.

Weaknesses: When he switched to guard, his strength advantage didn’t quite show up—he wasn’t weaker than opponents, but he could no longer bully them and easily open up running lanes. Streaky hand placement; sometimes it’s on-point and helps him control players through their arc, but at times he can end up attacking a player’s shoulders and losing the rep. Can mess up his timing – could be a product of switching to guard; at tackle, he could be more patient and his timing was good. At guard, he takes just a second too long to aim his punch. Streakiness is an issue.

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[expand title=”PAT ELFLEIN”]

Though he has an enormous amount of room to grow, Pat Elflein has established himself as a critical piece of the Vikings offensive line. Not only is he a big part of calling protections and adjusting the blocking scheme (and will likely continue to do so as Kirk Cousins acclimates to the offense), we saw the running game drop off in a big way when he was out with an injury.

Strengths: Quick and flexible. Fantastic mobility from speed and agility that allows him to pull well. Uncoils with power at the point of attack. Plays with consistent physicality and aggression and seeks contact. Looks for work. Great punch timing and hand placement, and uncommonly quick to set his hands after the snap. Showcases awareness and intelligence against blitzes and stunts. Keeps feet moving through the block. Solid movement when blocking in zone. If he wins first contact, he almost always wins the rep. Great second-level movement with the Vikings and good aiming. Solid movement and blocking on screens. Great at riding blockers who get to his edge with good control and placement.

Weaknesses: Overaggressive at the snap, often doesn’t wait for defenders to declare and can be susceptible to swim moves in an effort to win at the outset—sometimes leads to lunging. That aggression can also lead him to overrun plays or have his momentum used against him. Started off last offseason and training camp with snap accuracy issues, though didn’t demonstrate many as the year went on. Despite physical style of play, doesn’t sustain blocks for long enough to help on broken plays or slow-developing run plays. Ranked 27th of 29 centers in Pro Football Focus’ Pass Blocking Efficiency metric. Can lose leverage on run blocks. Despite overall strong record of awareness, will have moments where he’s completely out of position or late to check a stunt.

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LIKELY BACKUPS

[expand title=”DANNY ISIDORA”]

A fifth-round pick for the Vikings after starting for four straight years at Miami, some Vikings fans put some faith in Isidora as a potential long-term solution at the guard position following the retirement of Joe Berger. Unfortunately, his limited time in the NFL filling in for and injured Nick Easton was filled with errors and he’s on the outside looking in for the open spot on the offensive line.

Strengths: Good balance in run game. Aggressive, looks for work and plays through the whistle. Good upper-body strength and initiation of contact. Purported to be easily coached. Plays with good base and can sustain anchor through bull-rushes. Can reset feet through contact and keeps feet moving when initiating. Good grip strength. Bends at the knee instead of the waist.

Weaknesses: Serious issues with hand placement that will be exploited at NFL level. Punch aim paired with extremely poor punch timing. Vulnerable to counters as a result. Footwork on the move leads to run-ins with other offensive linemen and generally is slow. Feet aren’t quick in pass protection or moving to the second level. Balance in run game does not translate to pass protection and gets caught out of sorts against speed. Awareness issues against the blitz and against stunts. Allowed six pressures on only 77 pass protection snaps for a pass blocking efficiency that would rank 63rd of 80 guards.

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[expand title=”TOM COMPTON”]

Tom Compton has been in the league for much longer than one would expect of a sixth-round draft pick; he’ll be entering his seventh year and will finally be returning home to Minnesota, where he was born and went to high school. In 2014, he played the only season of his career where he logged over 500 snaps, and though they weren’t particularly good snaps, he’s done enough to prove to teams that he deserves to be on the roster.

Strengths: Good movement laterally on zone runs, good movement going up to the second level and solid short-area quickness for recovery. Does a very good job getting to landmark on reach blocks. Above average workouts in categories that correlate to success at both tackle and guard (except one), especially short shuttle (4.60 seconds). Arm length (34”) is a little long for a guard but works well for both positions. Very aware in blitz pickup and pass protection assignment. Generally good balance.

Weaknesses: Poor explosion numbers (30” vertical, 9’0” broad) that shows up on the field in the form of limited anchor. Poor anchor also leads to poor power at the point of attack; can win seals when kicking out but doesn’t move pile. Can get mixed up and target incorrect block on pulls or at the second level. Doesn’t fire hands inside at the snap. Inconsistent aiming, especially at the second level. Will often hug instead of punch chest. Poor punch timing even when aiming point is correct. Can resort to holding if a faster tackle beats him to an edge. Career pressure rate is poor (six sacks, 16 hits, 36 hurries given up in 721 pass pro snaps – would rank in the 21st percentile).

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DEPTH

[expand title=”COLBY GOSSETT”]

It’s been quite some time since the Vikings have seen sustained success from a late-round pick on the offensive line. While Brandon Fusco put together one solid year in 2013 and John Sullivan paid the Vikings back for their faith over quite some time, a string of also-rans litters their OL history. Colby Gossett, a two-star recruit with four FBS offers, might be able to break that trend with a powerful frame and a moldable skillset.

Strengths: Like a lot of small-school prospects on the OL, Gossett distinguishes himself from other linemen with his natural strength. Both his lower-body coil and upper-body power contribute to his strength. His handfighting is good, too – not just powerful swipes, but good punch with solid aiming points, especially when blocking the run. Gave up zero sacks in his final year (three QB hits and six hurries, per Pro Football Focus) in 328 snaps, though that was in an OL-friendly offense. Knows how to angle defenders to prevent them from getting an edge and can seal well. Has started at guard, tackle and center. Good attitude and willing to finish through the whistle or look for work.

Weaknesses: Poor movement skills on-field, though tested as an adequate-to-good mover. Doesn’t have the grip strength of a typical Vikings OL acquisition, something they’ve traditionally prioritized. Balance issues; can end up on the ground at the line or missing a second-level block because of it. Good aiming with hands doesn’t mean good technique – needs to change his approach to generate power by keeping thumbs up and improve punch timing. Lack of agility shows up both in recovery and when blocking on the move on screens or with second-level blocks. Should anchor better than he does, in part because hip doesn’t uncoil correctly with high pad level.

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[expand title=”JOSH ANDREWS”]

Josh Andrews was a bit of an unheralded draft prospect, and having gone undrafted as a fifth-year senior, the odds of making a roster were long. But Andrews is now entering his fifth year in the NFL – though he’s only played one snap. He might be here because of his relationship with new Vikings offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, in which case there’s a decent chance that he could make the roster once more. For now, he’s mostly an unknown that has clung around on the Eagles practice squad – and then the roster – for some time.

Strengths: Andrews plays better than his testing – and his testing is alright – with very good quickness and speed to the second level. Good hand placement and active, violent hands. Constantly moves feet and finds ways to use opponent’s movement against them. Great grip strength, like a lot of Vikings offensive linemen. Good awareness and switching to new assignment against blitzes and stunts. Solid stance and base. Pad level generally OK, even though it can pop high at times. Decent recovery. Maintains strength by bending at knee instead of waist and doesn’t lunge.

Weaknesses: In 2017, he was – in theory – the backup right guard in the preseason. Unfortunately, a hand injury kept him out of play until the final preseason game. Has had persistent injury issues in the NFL, with concussions, knee injuries and the hand injury (which kept him out of practice for a month). Core strength and lower-body strength are big liabilities, and he gets rocked back often on contact. Though he does a good job with hand placement, his timing is often off and so he can’t win at the snap too often. As a center, he showed occasional shotgun accuracy issues.

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[expand title=”CORNELIUS EDISON”]

Like former Vikings Brandon Fusco and Pat Elflein, Edison is a Rimington Award winner, given to the best center in their division – FCS for Cornelius Edison. He’s bounced around a couple of teams, earning stints with the Chicago Bears and Atlanta Falcons before arriving in Minnesota. He might have been drafted were it not for an injury that occurred during the predraft process, but he’s been able to impress long enough anyways to stick around the league.

Strengths: Looks for work. Plays through the whistle. Great grip strength; difficult to disengage from. Keeps his feet moving through contact, both as a pass blocker and run blocker. Seems generally aware of play design and blitz pickup. Quickly sets from the snap; not often caught with snapping arm out of place. Consistent shotgun snapper. Recovers well, especially against bull-rushers. Didn’t give up many pressures in the preseason (one hurry in 98 pass blocking snaps). Should fill in at both guard and center. Adequate size for the position.

Weaknesses: Often misses at the second level. Consistently poor hand placement. Misreads blocking angles when sustaining. Somewhat below average tester as an athlete, and looks less athletic on the field. Some balance issues means he ends up on the ground at times. Can play with too wide of a base. Strength doesn’t match tenacity – not often overpowered in the 2017 preseason but also couldn’t finish blocks or crack open seals; needed double teams consistently to take on bigger defensive tackles. On the other hand, he looked quite capable in the 2016 preseason both of moving up to the second level and finishing blocks.

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[expand title=”CHRIS GONZALEZ”]

Both San Jose State guards this year had incredible pass blocking metrics this year – at the top of the class in pass blocking efficiency, ahead of Will Hernandez, Quenton Nelson, Braden Smith, Wyatt Teller and more. Gonzalez himself allowed zero sacks, zero hits and four hurries in 467 pass blocking snaps. That said, he had some of the worst metrics in his class at run blocking, and his overall film matches it. The Vikings may have offered Gonzalez with some understanding of his overall pass protection success, but his technique will need a lot of work once he enters the NFL.

Strengths: Even after adjusting for team sack environment, Gonzalez was an efficient pass blocker in college, ranking second in the FBS after his teammate. Good movement skills on pulls. Efficient footwork as a run-blocker and pass protector. Good attitude; likes to finish. Good grip strength. Resets feet well to anchor. If he wins off the snap, very difficult for defensive player to win on the counter. Aims well in rare instances he’s asked to move up to second level.

Weaknesses: Extremely poor run block success numbers, per Pro Football Focus. Late to react to delayed blitzes or stunts. Lets defenders get into his chest and can get pushed on bull-rushes as a result. Has trouble winning leverage battle; pops up at the snap. Needs more technique to deal with finesse pass-rushers. Doesn’t aim hands very well or time his punch with any consistency. Limited lower body strength. Poor athleticism metrics as it relates to the position; 4.84-second short shuttle and 8.00-second three cone. Minor pectoral injury entering the offseason. One-dimensional running game in college; will be asked to do more in the NFL.

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[expand title=”J.P. QUINN”]

The Vikings, potentially worried about the health of their starting center Pat Elflein, decided to waive tight end Josiah Price in order to make room for another center in former Central Michigan standout J.P. Quinn, who had some time in minicamp with the Indianapolis Colts. That means the Vikings now have five players with center experience in Nick Easton, Pat Elflein, Cornelius Edison, Josh Andrews and now Quinn. While he’s likely a camp body, his potential movement skills definitely make him intriguing.

Strengths: Tested well in the key metric for NFL centers: short shuttle (4.46 seconds). Great pad level and hand placement. Generally good punch timing. Good grip strength. Keeps feet moving on contact or when anchoring. Has a good understanding of his opponent’s leverage. Called the protections for Central Michigan instead of the quarterback. Looks for work and plays through the whistle. Good movement to the second level, seems to aim well. Good recovery and balance.

Weaknesses: Testing doesn’t completely show up on film; occasionally awkward footwork when moving laterally or behind the line. Very poor lower-body strength. Gets pushed back in both passing and running sets. Was too injured to finish all of his pro day tests; that might be worth keeping an eye on. Played primarily in a zone-running scheme and will need some adjustment for the power plays the Vikings occasionally run. Can be late to bring snapping arm up in time to contact defensive linemen. Despite grip strength, defensive linemen can slip past him if they get enough speed off the snap. Ranked 81st of 109 in environment-adjusted pass blocking efficiency in the draft class, allowing a sack, four hits and seven hurries in an otherwise limited pressure offense.

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NEXT POSITION –> Defensive Ends
ALL POSITIONS

Check out the rest of the training camp guide:

Sam Ekstrom’s Position Battles
Sitting Brian O’Neill: Have “Developmental” Day Two Offensive Linemen Succeeded?
Pay Attention to Tryout Players
How to Watch Training Camp Drills
Can Kirk Cousins Be the Savior? (COMING SOON)


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