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Zimmer says Elflein will play center; Is Joe Berger a fit at guard?

Minnesota Vikings center Joe Berger (61) sets to snap the ball against the St. Louis Rams during an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 8, 2015, in Minneapolis. The Vikings won in overtime, 21-18. (Jeff Haynes/AP Images for Panini)

When the Minnesota Vikings released guard Brandon Fusco, they immediately shot to the top of everyone’s list to sign the best free agent guards – players like Kevin Zeitler, Ronald Leary and TJ Lang. But the Vikings didn’t make a big splash at guard, instead they signed two starting tackles.

The Vikings chose to address the interior offensive line in the draft, selecting Ohio State’s Pat Elflein in the third round. Speaking with the media on Saturday, head coach Mike Zimmer said Elflein will begin his career at center, which means that starter Joe Berger could move to the open right guard position.

Berger moved to guard in Weeks 15 and 16 when Fusco went down with an injury and was an instant upgrade in both pass protection and the running game.

Against the Green Bay Packers, Berger often went toe-to-toe with Mike Daniels, a dominant defensive tackle, and handled him well. Here is one example of Berger packing a punch off the snap to create a hole for Jerick McKinnon.

With Berger at guard, McKinnon carried the ball 14 times for 62 yards and Matt Asiata added six rushes for 34 yards for an average of 5.1 Yards Per Carry between the two backs. For the entire season, the Vikings averaged 3.2 YPC, dead last in the NFL. Certainly there are many factors that affect a stat like that over just two games, but a review of the game film revealed that Berger was effective in mitigating Daniels’ ability to stuff runs and pressure the quarterback.

Shuffling the 34-year-old linemen to guard would call upon the Vikings to either stick with Easton at center in 2017 or find a replacement in the draft or free agency. Easton was serviceable as a fill-in, but struggled with run blocking according to Pro Football Focus’s metrics, ranking 36th out of 38 qualifying centers.

Risk is involved in placing a rookie into the starting lineup of a team desperate to fix its offensive line, but the reward comes in the form of salary cap space. With both left and right tackle taking up big chunks of cap space, moving Berger to guard and starting Easton or drafting Elflein is much cheaper than it would have been to pay a top guard.

Because of Berger’s age, the Vikings should still add a just-in-case guard, someone like veteran Evan Mathis, a once-great lineman whose skills have faded, but was still solid in Arizona.

  • Gordon Guffey

    I have been talking Easton up sense week 10 ~ I thought he was good to great for a 2nd year player making his first starts after spending last year on the PS ~ Berger said he would be fine play guard next to Easton because he thought he was a fine Center ~

    By moving Berger to OG and letting Easton take over Center it improves the OL greatly IMHO ~ They could even move Boone to left or right OT ~ The offense wasn’t as bad as Norv made it look ~ The offense improved under the hand of Shurmur ~ I have posted links here from vikings.com that covered this very subject ~

    Like I have said the offense in 2016 was still very much Norv’s ~ Yes there were some changes after Shurmur took over but they were very small changes ~ Shurmur seems to think that he can tailor the offense to fit much of the players that are on the roster now ~ Yes he knows they need to add talent but its talent that will fit his offense ~ Just by the videos I watched he was talking OL and RB and that he wants Patterson and Thielen resigned ~ The Vikings might not sign some of the high priced players some want ~ However they might not need too ~

  • Andre Esters

    Exploring all possibilities is all that I ask from the Vikes… not a ton of options, even if they had stupid amounts of money… free agent players still need to have a desire to join Minnesota. I really hope they don’t dump all their money into one player…

  • Gordon Guffey

    Something I have to remind myself of this time of the year is there is always trade made after the draft and there is also cut downs when there is always a surprise vets let go ~ Not everything is final after the draft ~ Teams who dont want to give up a draft pick this year can always make a move for a pick next year ~ The left OT the Browns have been talking about trading the last two years might be in play if they find someone they like who is younger and cheaper ~

    Again I’m just guessing ~ Thinking ahead ~ I wonder what the Brows asking price for Thomas will be this year ~ ???

    • linus

      The Browns reportedly wanted a just second-round pick for Thomas at the trade deadline this past season, which seems ridiculously low. If it’s true, I’d much rather do that then invest a huge amount of cash in Whitworth. Thomas is three years younger, is locked in for two more seasons, and has a very reasonable cap number ($10M in 2017, $11.5M in 2018) for an elite LT.

      • Gordon Guffey

        Thanks for the reply linus ~ I agree on trading for Thomas in that case ~ Not likely to find a starting LT in this draft either ~

  • Carl A Brodin

    I think the idea of moving Berger to RG is a good idea for two reasons it keeps the lines continuity in tact and will save the vikings some cash for another area of need.

    • linus

      Not much continuity when the guy on his right wasn’t even on the team last year…

  • cka2nd

    Yes, Berger to Right Guard, and let Easton and Kerin duke it out for Center. One of them should give us a quality starter for the next five to ten years.

  • GordonGekko

    When sites likes this have nothing to write, they write a story in the form of a question like this.

  • Gordon Guffey

    I’m like Zimmer when it comes to Pro Football Focus ~ They are not the always right ~ I think Easton did better than OK ~ Plus Sullivan or Berger were great their first season as starters ~ It took them time ~ Every Time I here someone say the T.J. Clemmings should even be in the NFL the story of how Berger came to be the player he is today comes to mind ~ There is just too much hate when a new player doesn’t perform like such fans think they should in their first 3 years ~

  • linus

    I think I’m sold on them selecting Dion Dawkins in round 2, though there’s a chance he won’t last until #48. He has a ton of experience at LT, and although a lot of the “experts” seem to think his best spot is at guard, I think that’s just because he’s a little shorter (6’4″) than the stereotype OT, ‘cuz everything else they have to say about him suggests he can handle LT in the pros. He also has… wait for it… long arms, which should mitigate any concerns about his height, gets rave reviews for his power, and played in a PRO STYLE offense, which means he should be able to step in and play well right away. I could see him start at RG as a rookie and then move to one of the tackle spots as soon as next year.

  • CT Ronn

    Elflein

  • jeffreyinoc

    Am good with Feeney, Pocic or Elflein at #48.

  • Gordon Guffey

    Looks like the Vikings are still looking to add some players in FA ~
    Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman and his top assistant, George Paton, arrived in Phoenix a day early for this year’s annual league meetings.
    No, not to golf. To kick the tires on some more prospects they think can add value to the bottom of the team’s roster.
    Spielman and Paton attended the NFL combine for young veterans that was held Saturday and Sunday in Phoenix. The combine, which had 150 players, was for free agents who joined the NFL in 2014 or later or had their most recent contract released or expired.
    “We were looking at some potential guys we want to bring in to the offseason program that stood out to us on Sunday,” Spielman said Monday during the owners meetings. “We’re also monitoring some guys in free agency, doing the pro days, getting ready for the draft. Doing our top 30 dinner plans.
    http://www.startribune.com/spielman-paton-work-overtime-scouting-young-veteran-free-agents-before-league-meetings/417305243/

  • Kyle Nevins

    Anyone else see Boone get held by Clarke (97) on that play? It let
    Martinez (50) release and run Jet down (who, for that matter, seemed to be running in slow motion??). It looked like he had space if
    he would have been able to break to the flat if Rudolph hit the block on
    Clinton-Dix.

    Oh well. Not even sure why I’m complaining.

  • Gordon Guffey

    Yes Berger is a great pick at right OG ~ However he isn’t the only player they have to use at OG ~ There are players like Clemmings who was never seen as a OT coming into the pros and about 5 or 6 weeks ((( going of memory here ))) Norv had him moved from right OG out to right OT ~ Something that should have never have happened ~ But it did and due to injuries he was forced to start at right OT and then left OT and a lot of fans bitched and never thought once about him playing out of position and wanted to cut him on the spot without even giving him a shot at OG ~ And then there is Sirles who wasn’t the worst right OT in the NFL but was view as a OG coming into the pros and again a lot of fans bitched and never thought once about him playing out of position either ~ Same with Beavers who was well thought of coming out of college as a OT but viewed as a OG ~ <<< I'm not sure what to make of Beavers and what when wrong ~ ??? No one wants any of these 3 players to start at OT again but 2 of them could if called upon ~ So there is depth everywhere ~
    Easton played very well for a player who spent much of his first two seasons as a pro on the PS ~ At worse he is a fine backup ~
    That being said I can think of only one player who played well once Norv installed his blocking scheme and that Berger ~ Everyone else became average or worse ~ I have to believe we will see a change in the blocking scheme that never worked ~





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