Kirk Cousins likely will play a series in his Vikings debut in Saturday’s preseason opener in Denver. The smart move would be for the team’s $84 million quarterback to spend the entire game wearing a baseball cap on the sideline.
That’s because there is nothing to be gained by putting Cousins on the field for a few plays against the Broncos with three-fifths of his starting offensive line missing. This includes left guard Nick Easton, center Pat Elflein and right guard Mike Remmers.
Easton reportedly underwent surgery for a herniated disc in his neck on Thursday morning and is expected to miss the season. Elflein remains on the physically-unable-to-perform list after undergoing ankle and shoulder surgery during the offseason and Remmers has missed time because of an ankle injury. Elflein can come off the PUP at any time and Remmers should be back soon.
Getting Cousins work with his new offense will be important but that already has begun in training camp practices. The most important thing is keeping Cousins in one piece, so why take any chances?
Cousins can get plenty of work in the preseason once Elflein and Remmers return and that will be more valuable given building timing and chemistry with the starting offensive line is a key. Playing behind a line that includes starters Riley Reiff and Rashod Hill at the tackle spots, backups Tom Compton and Danny Isidora at the guards and Cornelius Edison at center means that if Cousins does throw any passes on Saturday they are likely to be quick ones in order to avoid pressure.
What the Vikings should do is start Trevor Siemian on Saturday against his former team and then get long looks at Kyle Sloter, who spent training camp in Denver last year, and undrafted rookie free agent Peter Pujals.
That would be the wise move.
A FIRST GUESS
Coming off a 13-3 season and with a roster that looked ready to make a run at the Super Bowl, Vikings general manager Rick Spielman was expected to select a guard early in the April draft.
Veteran Joe Berger, who moved from center to guard for the 2017 season, announced his retirement in March and there were plenty of good young prospects who could have been plugged in. So when the 30th pick in the first round arrived, it was safe to assume the Vikings would address a clear need.
Only that didn’t happen.
Instead, the Vikings selected cornerback Mike Hughes of Central Florida. Considering how much coach Mike Zimmer values cornerbacks and how hard it is to find good ones, this didn’t come as a complete surprise.
The thought was the Vikings would trade up in the second round to take a guard. But when the run on the position started, the Vikings were nowhere to be found.
Will Hernandez of UTEP went with the second pick of the second round to the New York Giants; Braden Smith of Auburn was taken with the fifth pick by Indianapolis; and Connor Williams of Texas went with the 18th pick to Dallas. In all five offensive linemen, including Iowa center James Daniels, were selected in the second round before the Vikings used the 30th pick (62nd overall) on Pittsburgh offensive tackle Brian O’Neill.
The failure to take a guard, led to the Vikings’ decision to move Remmers from right tackle to right guard and to promote Hill from a backup role to right tackle. This seemed to be tempting fate, not to mention getting too cute when an obvious solution had been presented.
Spielman often has talked about taking the best player available, but this seemed to be a special case given how few actual needs the roster seemed to have for 2018. The unexpected loss of Easton makes the Vikings’ decision look that much worse and it doesn’t help that Elflein and Remmers are injured.
If Minnesota had drafted a guard in the first round or early in the second, the main concern right now would be focused on replacing Easton. Instead, the Vikings have to be worried about not only the left guard spot but also in how Remmers will do in his move to guard and how Hill is going to perform as the starting right tackle.
For a team that should have learned a lesson about how important offensive line depth can be during a 2016 season in which things fell apart, it’s remarkable that the Vikings might have put themselves back in the same situation.
What makes it even more of a head-scratcher is that Cousins isn’t nearly as mobile as last year’s starter, Case Keenum. Cousins needs the pocket to hold up and, yet, that might not be the case.
If the line does struggle, Spielman and Zimmer will have to answer plenty of questions about the direction they elected to go on draft night.
LET’S END ON A POSITIVE
It was a big story that wide receiver Stefon Diggs and cornerback Xavier Rhodes were sent home by Zimmer for Wednesday’s practice after getting into it during Tuesday’s session and going back-and-forth (verbally) during the walk-through on Wednesday morning.
Zimmer called it “undisciplined stuff,” saying, “they did not make me happy.”
Privately you have to think Zimmer was thrilled by the Diggs-Rhodes battle.
Here are two highly paid, star players who take so much pride in their one-on-one battles in a training camp practice that neither would back down. Rhodes is one of the NFL’s best corners and yet he was so upset that Diggs caught a 50-yard touchdown on him that he remained on the field for several reps afterward and even insisted on playing with the third-team defense.
Having covered this team for many years, I can’t tell you the number of times where I thought a wide receiver or cornerback should be sent home because they either looked like they didn’t care or were just not good.
It’s going to be difficult for a young player not to give full effort, when guys like Diggs and Rhodes are willing to go this hard in an August practice.