Anyone who was around the Minnesota Vikings in 2016 had flashbacks when Mike Remmers walked off the practice field with an injury and Nick Easton suddenly went M.I.A from practice with neck and back issues.
Two years ago, injuries on the offensive line derailed a team that had a top defense, strong quarterback play and outstanding performances from receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen.
When the Vikings open up the preseason against the Denver Broncos on Saturday, they will do so with a third-string center and backup guards on both sides of quarterback Kirk Cousins.
““I’ve played with a depleted offensive line a little bit last year and it’s certainly not preferred,” Cousins said. “Much of the offensive line play is like quarterback where you have players who down the road you know are going to be good players, but they may not be there yet and so it takes time, it takes reps. It takes these preseason games. We’ve got to throw them in the fire and get them work so that they can take those next steps.”
Last year’s fifth-round pick Danny Isidora and veteran Tom Compton will start at guard while Cornelius Edison, a 2017 practice squad player, gets the call at center.
“I see it as a great challenge for me as a quarterback,” Cousins said. “I look around the league at some of the all-time greats that are playing right now and they’ve had a revolving door at offensive line and they never really caused a drop in their play. So if I ever want to be mentioned among those guys, I’ve got to be able to play regardless of who’s in front of me. So I’ll take pride in hopefully being able to produce at a high level regardless of who is out there.”
The Vikings’ quarterback is no stranger to playing behind O-line injuries. Following a rash of injuries last season in D.C., he lost more yards due to sack last season than any other quarterback in the NFL.
Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo said the injuries will force him to tweak his play calling and protections on Saturday.
“When you’re missing a bunch of starters, you have to protect your guys. We will know very early how we’re holding up up front,” DeFilippo said/ “I anticipate us holding up really, really good because we’re playing a darn good defensive line out here and holding up pretty good. I’m really proud of how our young guys have stepped up up front. It hasn’t been perfect. Sometimes it’s not 100 percent fundamentally sound. It turns int a little bit of a street fight. Obviously the toughness factor is there and we plan on executing well on Saturday night.”
The good news for the Vikings is Elflein appears to be on his way back from offseason shoulder and ankle surgery and Mike Remmers’ injury is not thought to be series. DeFilippo talked about the importance of getting Elflein back under center.
“It’s different hearing Kirk’s cadence here or behind the huddle that it is actually hearing Kirk’s cadence when you have Linval Joseph lined up across from you,” DeFilippo said. “So that, number one, is doing it live. I think No. 2, any time you come back from injury, I think there is a confidence factor that needs to be built up. He’s a very confident guy. But you see anybody coming off an injury where they want to test it out a little bit before you go 100 percent full speed.”