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Updated: July 24th, 2012 10:18pm
Scouting the Vikings: Left side of o-line built for zone running game

Scouting the Vikings: Left side of o-line built for zone running game

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by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com

Each day until players report to training camp on July 26, Tom Pelissero is breaking down the Minnesota Vikings' roster by position, based on observations of games and practices, tape studies and interviews with NFL coaches and scouts.

Day 7

Offensive linemen.

On the roster (15)

Patrick Brown, Joe Berger, Chris DeGeare, Brandon Fusco, Tyler Holmes, Levi Horn, Charlie Johnson, Matt Kalil (unsigned), Phil Loadholt, DeMarcus Love, Kevin Murphy, Austin Pasztor, Quentin Saulsberry, Geoff Schwartz, John Sullivan.

Departures

Anthony Herrera (released), Steve Hutchinson (released, signed with Tennessee).

The skinny

Using the No. 4 overall pick on the draft's best left tackle fixed two positions, at least on paper. Kalil (6-foot-7, 295 pounds) isn't particularly powerful from the hips down or explosive at the point of attack. But he's so long he can cover up pass rushers with his frame alone, and he has the feet and athleticism to seal the corner and make blocks at the second level. Bumping Johnson (6-4, 305) inside to left guard gives the Vikings another player with good feet, balance and bending ability at a position where he won't be so out of place. He's developing into one of the group's leaders along with Sullivan (6-4, 301), a solid technician who seems to have turned a corner from a health standpoint. At right tackle, Loadholt (6-8, 343) brings power in the run game and inconsistency in pass protection -- the latter a major point of emphasis as he enters a contract year.

Best battles

A natural center, Fusco (6-4, 306) is a mean-streaking mauler who remains somewhat raw and took the bulk of first-team work at right guard during the offseason. He'll have to hold off Schwartz (6-6, 331), who sat out last season following hip surgery and still is getting his conditioning back. Schwartz played for line coach Jeff Davidson in Carolina, also has experience at tackle and got $150,000 in bonuses on his one-year deal. Whoever loses figures to front a reserve group that otherwise is up in the air. Berger (6-5, 315) has the most experience (27 NFL starts) and filled in serviceably last season at guard and center. DeGeare (6-4, 325) showed up to camp too heavy last summer and ended up spending the whole season on the practice squad. He can play guard or tackle, where Brown (6-5, 310) and Love (6-4, 315) figure to battle for the primary "swing" job.

Sleeper alert

Saulsberry (6-2, 300) got a $5,000 bonus as an undrafted rookie out of Mississippi State. He'll enter camp at center with the third string, which also figures to include Holmes (6-4, 312), Horn (6-6, 320), Pasztor (6-7, 305) and Murphy (6-7, 295), the Harvard product re-signed on Tuesday. They're all long shots, but the Vikings' habit of keeping multiple offensive linemen on the practice squad means there are jobs to be had nonetheless.

One NFL scout's take on ... Matt Kalil, Charlie Johnson and John Sullivan

"I think they're probably built more for that (zone) style of offense when it comes to the running game. They're fairly athletic in terms of their ability to move their feet and to get to space. I don't think any of those three guys will be mistaken for guys that are going to get a lot of vertical push at the line of scrimmage, yet they're good enough to get in position and be athletic enough to play with angles and play on their feet. I think that's the trade-off."
-- AFC executive

Outlook

The addition of a stud left tackle has the potential to transform any line, even if Kalil doesn't live up to the Pro Bowl potential the Vikings believe he possesses. Coordinator Bill Musgrave should have more options with his protections, allowing him to put more players out in pattern and increase pressure on the defense. The inevitable youth movement figures to come with growing pains, though. It'll be a process, particularly if Fusco joins Kalil in the lineup as a first-time NFL starter.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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