Minnesota’s Right Guard Group Is Starting To Take Shape

Photo Credit: Ben Ludeman (USA TODAY Sports)

When the Minnesota Vikings selected Ohio State guard Wyatt Davis in the third round of April’s draft, fans were anxious to see him crack the starting lineup. The consensus thinking was that Davis would replace human turnstile Dakota Dozier at right guard. Still, concern crept in that Dozier, more popular with the coaching staff than fans and analysts, would somehow wind up retaining the starting job.

This dream appeared to end before it ever got started, as Davis missed the first week of training camp with an ankle injury. However, third-year offensive lineman Oli Udoh began clawing for the starting right guard spot in a somewhat surprising development. Almost every day, reports out of camp were that Udoh was outpacing Dozier. Still, the two continued sharing reps with the first-team offense, and fans worried that the coaching staff would keep the incumbent starter in place for 2021.

Fortunately, when the team released its unofficial depth chart last Tuesday, Udoh was penciled in as the starter. Because of that, he was one of 30 Vikings who did not suit up for the team’s preseason tilt against the Denver Broncos. Dozier’s start against Denver appeared to give him one final audition to get his job back.

U.S. Bank Stadium, which was closed to fans last year, was predictably loud and electric following the epic Vikings player intros. This continued after they turned the Broncos over on downs at the Minnesota two-yard line. Unfortunately, on 3rd-and-6, a flag was thrown as quarterback Jake Browning rolled to his right on a pass. A yellow flag laid in the purple end zone; Dozier was penalized after he hooked former Vikings defensive tackle Shamar Stephen in the end zone. The result was a safety, and all of the energy in the stadium died.

As if making Stephen look like John Randle wasn’t bad enough, Dozier had a false start called on him on the following drive. He was the only Vikings offensive lineman to be penalized on the day. For his efforts, Dozier was given the lowest PFF grade among all offensive players for the Vikings, only tallying a 20.9 overall grade from Pro Football Focus. He was replaced by Davis to begin the second quarter.

The Ohio State rookie wasn’t perfect, but he held his own for most of the afternoon. At times he’d overpursue and miss assignments in the run game. But he was able to control defenders when he engaged them and moved them out of the hole. He also showed a willingness to block through the whistle, a trait he showed all through college. This is a stark contrast to Dozier, who more than once finished plays looking back at the ball carrier.

Davis was not spectacular again in pass protection, but he also was not a trainwreck. After getting put on skates on his first two plays, including one that resulted in a sack, Davis began to settle down. He was able to drop his anchor and hold his ground as defenders attempted to bull-rush. He had some missed assignments where he was late picking up twists and stunts, but that will come to him with experience, and none of these mistakes proved to be catastrophic.

Pro Football Focus felt the same way. Davis played 49 snaps on the day and had the second-highest offensive grade on the team with a 78.9. His pass-blocking grade was 59.7. Dozier only posted four games with a higher pass-blocking grade than that last year, and none of those games came after Week 10. And, as mentioned before, Davis committed no penalties despite playing nearly three times as many snaps as Dozier.

Davis had a rough first two plays but finished the day with more highs and fewer lows than Dozier. Suddenly, the fight for the right guard spot appears to be down to Udoh and Davis. Expect more starters to play against the Indianapolis Colts next week, meaning Udoh should make his preseason debut. Also, look to see if it’s Davis, not Dozier, who comes in to replace Udoh when the starters sit. Another solid performance from Wyatt Davis could spell the end of the Dakota Dozier era.

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