If the last few years have proven anything, it’s that injuries on the offensive line can bring down an entire season. But when the Minnesota Vikings have seen both tackles Riley Reiff and Rashod Hill go down at different times, rookie tackle Brian O’Neill has stepped in and performed admirably. O’Neill has also shown the high-end potential that impressed the Vikings on Draft Day.
“He’s progressed an awful lot,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “I thought he played pretty well yesterday. He battled, very smart, picked up a lot of the things that they were trying to do. He’s getting better all the time.”
The Vikings’ second-round pick from Pitt started his first game against Arizona in a 27-17 win and allowed just two pressures on Kirk Cousins. Previously he appeared at right tackle in relief against the Packers, Bills and Eagles. Overall he has not given up a sack, allowed three QB hits and seven pressures in 140 pass blocking snaps.
“He’s doing a really good job,” guard Mike Remmers said. “You can just see how much it means to him. He comes in every day early, staying late, asking questions and working out in the gym and he’s constantly working his technique and everything so he’s overall as a player has grown a lot.”
O’Neill has the highest run blocking grade on the Vikings from Pro Football Focus — though the Cardinals entered as one of the NFL’s worst run stopping teams.
After several solid performances, the question now is whether he should remain the starter at right tackle when Riley Reiff returns from a foot injury. The reason O’Neill didn’t win the starting job out of camp was that the Vikings saw him as a player who needed to continue to add strength and develop his technique against the bull rush.
No doubt opponents have attempted to plow into him — and sometimes with success — but his quick processing, blocking in space and athleticism might be too appealing to ignore, especially if he continues to make progress with his technique. A source told KSTP-TV’s Darren Wolfson that a decision has not been made on whether O’Neill or Rashod Hill will start when Reiff comes back.
Hill has given up four sacks and 21 total pressures in 225 pass blocking snaps between right and left tackle. While he struggled last year in the postseason, Hill largely played well when called upon to start, giving up just one sack in 323 pass snaps during the regular season.