As Vikings fans, we can all huddle together and agree that we fear a world where Dakota Dozier starts more football games on purpose. But right now, that’s where we stand. Dozier took the first-team reps in the spring, and likely will continue when camp begins. But camp is long, and there are plenty of chances for rookie Wyatt Davis to overtake the veteran.
We’ve been through a lot of pain on the offensive line in Minnesota over the last decade. From T.J. Clemmings to Pat Elflein to Dru Samia, a long list of players became public enemy No. 1 in the state. Right now, Dozier holds that title. That makes it difficult to cut through the frustration and give Dozier a true evaluation. I’m not necessarily here to disprove Dozier’s reputation as a bad offensive lineman; I’m here to define it.
Davis will have some standard rookie problems to overcome. It’s hard to learn an NFL playbook over a few months and even harder to apply that knowledge in a real, fast-moving game. It’s plenty common for rookie offensive linemen to take some time to start not because they aren’t better than the guy in front of them, but because they simply aren’t ready to play. There’s no rookie who doesn’t have to grapple with this, so we’ll set it aside and focus on the specifics of Dakota Dozier.
Perhaps the most eye-catching problem in Dozier’s tape is how he performs against stunts. The most common stunts involve one player crashing into an offensive lineman to create an opening while a player from somewhere else loops around to attack the opening. In the below example, the edge will try to lure the guard inside while the defensive tackle attacks his outside shoulder. This was something teams threw at Dozier a ton because they saw how bad he was against it.
As pointed out during our conversation about Davis after the draft, Dozier has a nasty habit of overcommitting to crashing defenders. Not only does that open up lanes for looping defenders, but it can ruin his positioning and lead to ugly losses as well. It’s not just stunts and twists. Any deceptive tactics work on him like a charm. Put more simply, Dozier is way too gullible.
Playing against stunts is one of Davis’s biggest strengths. Even when Clemson threw their infamous arsenal of stunts at him, he was prepared and mostly unfazed. He only lost out to a couple of stunts with the looper coming from all the way across the formation. This is a fantastic opportunity for Davis to demonstrate why he should get the job.
That may take some time, as that’s a fairly difficult skill to simulate in practice. Even on 11-on-11 drills, the defense will only practice stunts so often. Mike Zimmer has been known to throw difficult defensive packages at offenses in practice, so it’s perhaps more likely in Minnesota than elsewhere. This skill likely won’t be featured until the Vikings practice against the Denver Broncos, and even then, only if the Broncos want to practice their TEX stunts.
Dozier isn’t a one-weakness kind of player. His pad level often gets too high, leading to some ugly losses. Unlike Christian Darrisaw, he doesn’t do a great job of recovering when caught out of position. That will show up especially in one-on-one reps against Sheldon Richardson or Dalvin Tomlinson. Meanwhile, Davis will run up against the likes of James Lynch or Armon Watts on the second team. Davis has a great reputation for pass protection. If that shows up in his one-on-one drills in August, it could begin the process of moving up.
Wyatt Davis also has some weaknesses. As we covered last time, Davis had some issues in college reaching more difficult spots in the second level and across gaps. That could have been due to a knee injury, but for the sake of argument, let’s not give him the benefit of the doubt there. A poor performance in second-level blocking kept Brett Jones out of the starting lineup for years, and could well do the same for Davis.
That would require Dozier to be better at the classic zone stuff than Davis is, which is difficult to surmise. The Vikings rarely asked Dozier to perform difficult reach blocks, instead placing that burden on Garrett Bradbury and Riley Reiff. When he did have difficult second-level assignments, he was just okay. That led to some of the more embarrassing moments for Dozier.
The veteran is supposed to be the one with the advantage in on-field awareness and familiarity. Unlike most rookie vs. veteran position battles, Dozier won’t enjoy such an advantage in this one.
So there are several avenues through which Wyatt Davis can win the job. He could outplay Dozier in one-on-ones, better respond to Zimmer’s added complexity in full-team drills, or be more consistent than Dozier in the preseason. Dozier isn’t good, we know this, but with more specificity on why Dozier isn’t good, we can put forth something actionable. The only thing keeping Davis out of the lineup are factors that apply universally to all rookies. There’s as good a chance as any that Davis doesn’t develop like other rookies, but barring that, this one should be a cinch.