Since the beginning of training camp, third-year offensive lineman Oli Udoh has been lining up at right guard with the first-team offense. This spot opened up when the Vikings moved second-year guard Ezra Cleveland to left guard after spending last season on the right side.
The expectation from the outside was that the starting right guard spot would be a camp battle between the less-than-unspectacular veteran Dakota Dozier and 2021 third-round rookie Wyatt Davis. Even Mason Cole, a guard/center the Minnesota Vikings acquired from the Arizona Cardinals, was expected to fight for the spot.
Instead, Udoh, the third-year lineman out of Elon, has stepped up to the plate, splitting reps with Dozier on the first team in the first week of training camp practices. It’s fair to acknowledge that it is early, and Mike Zimmer has never been one to anoint rookies instant starters. While he’s still raw, Udoh has been with the team since 2019 and could be a temporary placeholder for Davis, much like Rashod Hill currently is at left tackle for first-round selection Christian Darrisaw.
Before camp began, Rick Spielman brought up Udoh when asked about the right guard position. After being drafted as a tackle and playing the position since entering the league, this was somewhat surprising to hear.
A day later, Zimmer praised Udoh.
Standing 6’6” and weighing 325 pounds, he possesses the size to play at the end of the line. The Vikings rested most of their starters in the 2019 season finale against the Bears, giving Udoh his first career start and only extensive NFL play. Udoh more than held his own against (possibly a disinterested) Khalil Mack. This created some hope that he could potentially start at tackle, even prompting Zimmer to suggest that Udoh could compete for the starting left tackle spot back in March.
But with testing numbers that indicate he has limited foot quickness and agility, the move inside may work best for Udoh. With one of the better right tackles in the NFL beside him, Udoh isn’t put on an island that he may or may not be ready for. On Monday, for example, Udoh was moved to left tackle while Hill sat out of practice. Lined up against Danielle Hunter, Udoh predictably struggled. While one bad day at camp doesn’t make a career, it stood out because of how well he has played outside of that. On Tuesday, Udoh returned to right guard.
That Udoh is even battling for the starting spot is an encouraging sign for the Vikings. For most of the past decade, 11 Day 3 offensive linemen have been selected by Minnesota. Unfortunately, none of these selections have even come close to panning out. 2015 fourth-round selection T.J. Clemmings brought 30 of the group’s 37 total games started. He actually had a decent rookie campaign at right tackle but was shown the door after a disastrous 2016 season. The other seven starts were from Dru Samia (with four), a fourth-round selection in 2019 who was maybe worse than Dakota Dozier, and Danny Isidora (three), a 2017 fifth-round guard.
At the very worst, Udoh may lose the starting job to Davis but still show that he can be a capable backup lineman that can fill in all along the line. We all know how common injuries can be with the Vikings. Even if he only ends up filling in for a handful of games this year, that would be viewed as a success, and the Vikings value versatility. For example, Hill has been with the team since the end of 2016. While he isn’t going to bring back memories of Gary Zimmerman, Hill can start for a handful of games and not become a liability.
Udoh has come a long way since being the 193rd selection in the 2019 draft. He has a chance to become the first late-round offensive lineman to pan out in the Zimmer era. Entering the season with a strong starting roster that has some questionable depth behind it, the Vikings would benefit from Udoh cracking the starting lineup and showing that he is, at the very least, a formidable member of the offensive line.