Vikings

VIKINGS TRAINING CAMP GUIDE: Offensive Tackles

Photo Credit: Brad Rempel (USA Today Sports)

Last season the Vikings revamped both starting tackle positions and took tremendous strides thanks in part to acquisitions Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers. There may be more tinkering this year as Remmers likely will move to guard to replace the retired Joe Berger, leaving an opening at right tackle. The Vikings have lacked continuity at this position for large chunks of the last decade, making their choice at right tackle fairly important. Finally, the sudden and tragic death of offensive line coach Tony Sparano will not only cast a pall over this unit in training camp but will bring about a new position coach to whom it must acclimate.

PRESUMED STARTERS

[expand title=”RILEY REIFF”]

After a somewhat disappointing year as the representative solution to the Vikings’ offensive line problems, Reiff is poised to return to his best playing days after another year in the Vikings’ system. Though he likely will never be mistaken for an elite left tackle, the upgrade he’s provided at the position – even in a disappointing year – over the recent past for the Vikings has been tremendous.

Strengths: Reiff is a fairly technically sound player with good footwork, patience and recovery ability. Reiff shows remarkable patience when waiting for edge rushers to declare and isn’t often caught overcorrecting to the inside or the outside. His quickness and balance allow him to perform a variety of roles, including protecting the pocket on deep dropbacks, pulling as a tackle or getting in front of screens—all skills he’s consistently shown over the years. Technique-sound run-blocking allows him to consistently stay ahead of competition on zone and power runs, even when put into a bad position by the end or by the scheme. Good awareness of blitz pickups. Looks for work.

Weaknesses: Often loses the initial battle, allowing defenders to get inside of his pads. Gets long-armed too easily. His punch placement is often incorrect as a result, though if he wins the battle at the snap, he’s got great hand placement. Timing overall is poor, and catches too often in pass protection. Needs to be on form to absorb powerful bull-rushers; if he loses leverage, doesn’t have the natural strength to maintain anchor and can be pushed into the pocket. Hinges at the waist too often in pass protection. Folding there hurts his ability to generate upper-body strength. Also results in leaning, which savvy defensive ends can take advantage of.

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[expand title=”RASHOD HILL”]

Rashod Hill had a strong case to be drafted – putting together the best sack-environment-adjusted pass protection stats in his draft class. Nevertheless, he slipped through the draft and the Jaguars grabbed him shortly afterwards. After a stellar showing in the 2016 preseason, he was stashed on their practice squad. A series of injuries forced the Vikings to find another offensive tackle, and they immediately went after Hill, who nearly immediately proved his worth in a great showing in Week 17 of that season. Now, he’s competing for a starting job with the Vikings.

Strengths: Demonstrated length, strength and agility in college, especially in turning rushers aside. Can get ahead of screens and moves surprisingly fast on zone plays and into the second level. Violent, active hands – keeps fighting to shut down finesse rushers. Performed well in college against faster speed-rushers. Showed patience and balance. Not often taken advantage of by countermoves. Assignment-sound in pass protection, sometimes called out the protections as a tackle. Aware of blitzes and movement, and looks for work.

Weaknesses: Awkward kickstep in college shows through in the NFL, and he has to escape it to deal with faster edge rushers in the NFL; means crossing his feet and losing a foundation. Sometimes doesn’t block the correct half-man on run assignments, exposing run lane. Must rely on winning angles in the run game, does not often drive block well or push downfield. Not great at finding and blocking at the second level or in the screen game. Despite assignment-soundness on passing plays, seemed to get lost regularly in the running game. Pads pop up at the snap in pass protection and leans back to accept contact – even if he had core strength or lower body strength, he wouldn’t be able to use it. Even a moderately strong edge rusher should be able to bull rush him in the pocket. Narrow base. Very poor punch timing, often the second to make contact. Has difficulty sustaining blocks. Will lunge at times and lose balance.

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LIKELY BACKUP

[expand title=”BRIAN O’NEILL”]

A second-round pick that might hold the hope for the Vikings future on the offensive line, Brian O’Neill might have to sit this season out a as a “developmental” offensive tackle. What makes him so appealing is his incredible athleticism and on-field performance despite technical deficiencies. If given the right developmental track, he could be the Vikings’ answer to Lane Johnson if not quite as freakishly athletic.

Strengths: Incredible athleticism – compares strongly to Jake Matthews athletically in the workout room and on the field. Athleticism shows up in lower-body strength, quickness, speed and balance. Combines that athleticism with a good frame – long arms, good height and so on. Good recovery, with an intuitive understanding of how to distribute power and weight. Uncoils well through the hips to deliver power on contact. Good at understanding blocking angles in space and preventing players from getting to advantageous edges. Good grip strength.

Weaknesses: Though athletic, needs to improve upper-body strength. Great frame, but needs to add weight to it, probably through increasing upper-body muscle mass. Didn’t respond well at the Senior Bowl for whatever reason – new technique, coaching or opponents. Raw technical problems shine through early and often at Pitt; doesn’t have the muscle memory to ingrain good habits. Inexperience shows against moderately crafty edge rushers who set up and execute moves. Has issues with some specific moves, like rips.

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DEPTH

[expand title=”CEDRICK LANG”]

The ultimate longshot, Cedrick Lang played football in his freshman year of high school and didn’t put on pads again until his fifth year with Texas-El Paso, where he played as a tight end. In between, he was a power forward. At UTEP, he was listed at 6’10” for the basketball program and 6’9” for the football program. When the Giants signed him, they listed him at 6’7”. The Broncos listed him as 6’9,” and his listed weight has fluctuated between 255 pounds and 290. The Giants signed him as a tight end and he was listed in most draft guides as one, but he played tackle in camp for the Broncos and will again for the Vikings.

Strengths: Not the only tackle that can catch passes on the roster, mirroring Brian O’Neill. Like O’Neill, he scored a touchdown in college. As expected of most tight end converts, he moves well on the field. Great agility, with lateral shuffle capability and stop-start movement. An asset on screens as a blocker. Good upper-body strength. Surprisingly advanced footwork for his experience level and can create a good base. Great frame – officially 6’7 1/2″ with 35” arms. Great attitude and looks for work.

Weaknesses: Has filled out his frame and looks like an offensive lineman. Naturally, given his experience level, he has rough technique. Very poor punch timing, poor instincts on how to deal with edge rushers who have latched on. Doesn’t aim hands inside the jersey and flares elbows the few times he does. Poor lower-body strength. Hinges at the waist and loses balance too often. Inexperience with the quickness of edge rushers can result in easy counters for defensive linemen.

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[expand title=”DIEUGOT JOSEPH”]

An undrafted Florida International prospect, Joseph follows the mold of Cedrick Lang and Storm Norton as a tackle with an impressive frame. The Vikings have seemingly doubled down on length this offseason at the position, and Joseph is the latest prospect to fulfill that need. Joseph was recruited to FIU as a defensive end, but coaches switched him to left tackle in his redshirt freshman season and he eventually started every game for them as a senior, earning honorable mention All-Conference mentions.

Strengths: With 35 5/8” arms, he has more wiggle room on the edge than many other tackles. Unlike Lang and Norton, effectively uses those long arms to keep defensive linemen free of his chest. Great upper-body strength. Good recovery when beaten. Good agility to shuffle laterally or stop-and-start when looking for work. Excellent awareness against the blitz. Moves well to the second level or on pulls.

Weaknesses: Lunges too often and loses balance when edge rushers slow-play. Lacking lower-body explosion. Can lose anchor against stronger ends and doesn’t generate enough push in the running game. Punch timing needs work. Doesn’t uncoil in a coordinated fashion, exacerbating lower-body strength issues. Hand placement an issue and can fail to keep elbows beneath hands. Can get jerked around by ends who manipulate his weight.

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[expand title=”STORM NORTON”]

An efficient and promising tackle out of the MAC, Storm Norton might be the unheralded dark horse that ends up on the roster because of his sheer potential. Starting 28 straight games at left tackle for Toledo, the massive tackle has a lot to learn and needs to make up for some movement deficiencies to earn a roster spot.

Strengths: With 35” arms and an 85” wingspan, Norton has an impressive frame. Has surprising lateral agility for his size and can shuffle side to side to take advantage of his immense reach. Will surprise defenders on zone plays by hitting landmarks. Has the right attitude for an offensive lineman, playing through the whistle and looking for work. Seeks to finish.

Weaknesses: Doesn’t have a lot of weight (307 pounds) for a 6’7” tackle and could add more muscle, especially in the lower body. His lack of explosion or anchor means that he can get pushed back in the pocket and has trouble generating much push in the run game. Straight-line speed is an issue on screens and second-level blocks. Plays with too high a pad level and robs what strength advantages he might have. Hugs instead of punches, aiming hands outside of the numbers. Keeps thumbs facing inward, flaring elbows and can’t lock. Punch timing prevents him from effectively keeping chest clean. Doesn’t demonstrate good balance; could be a product of a narrow base. Bends at the waist instead of the knee, sacrificing power.

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[expand title=”AVIANTE COLLINS”]

Aviante Collins was a bit of a surprise 53-man roster survivor, but has shown that his strengths do translate at the NFL level and could be the kind of developmental offensive lineman that pays back investments down the road. His upside is tantalizing, and Vikings fans got to see a little bit of a preview of his play as he moonlighted as the sixth offensive lineman in the final week of the regular season as well as two playoff games.

Strengths: Described as athletic, and has excellent straight-line speed, which he matched with excellent second-level aiming. His speed in the NFL is as advertised. Finishes with nasty streak, and finishes often. Looks for work. Versatile—played every position but center at TCU. Great grip strength and locks on in pass protection when winning the initial battle. Fluid movement and great balance, which contributes to his solid recovery. Keeps feet moving on contact and seeks to initiate contact. Rarely missed a run assignment.

Weaknesses: Despite running an extremely fast 40-yard dash, has significant issues with explosiveness and agility scores. Extremely light for an OT—295 pounds at combine. Other measureables—like frame, hand size and arm length—are lacking. Lacks core power despite bench press accomplishment (34 reps at the combine); got bullied by Jonathan Bullard regularly in his only regular season showing. Poor hand technique; misses punch placement and catches instead of controls. Awkward first step. Lunges too often. Loses leverage and can be bull-rushed. Took great second-level angles in college, but in his limited snaps in the NFL, took poor angles to the second level. Plays with poor pad level, which exacerbates his strength problems. Had difficulties redirecting stronger pass-rushers.

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NEXT POSITION –> Interior Offensive Line
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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