The Minnesota Vikings’ offense opened up their preseason slate by posting an impressive 42 points against the Denver Broncos. While there were plenty of strong performances across the board — i.e. Roc Thomas’s 120 yards receiving and Kirk Cousins’ touchdown drive — we don’t know much more about the near future of the Vikings’ offensive line than we did before Saturday’s game.
The starting line stood strong on the opening series with Cousins in the game, creating big holes for Latavius Murray, who gained 42 yards on just four carries.
“I felt good about it,” Cousins said. “I could not believe how many explosive runs we had. I thought they did a great job in run protection as well.”
With Nick Easton out for the year, Pat Elflein recovering from offseason surgery and Mike Remmers dinged up, the Vikings started Tom Compton at left guard, Danny Isidora at right guard and Cornelius Edison at center. On September 9 when the Vikings face the San Francisco 49ers, Elflein and Remmers are very likely to be back.
Naturally Riley Reiff played very little against the Broncos, but the rest of the starting line was left in for the majority of the first half. Compton, Isidora and Edison played 31 total snaps while 2017 undrafted free agent Aviante Collins was in the game for 62 snaps, playing both left tackle and guard. Rookie Brian O’Neill also saw a ton of action with 47 snaps.
Compton is the most experienced of the bunch. He’s started 11 games over the last six years. Isidora played 147 snaps in 2017, Collins saw 28 snaps in Week 17 last year.
Isidora had a solid night, but played on the right side while Compton got the call in Easton’s spot. During practice the two have switched back and forth between positions. It’s possible we could see Isidora on the left side for the second preseason game.
“Sometimes his feet get a little wide in pass protection and sometimes at the second level he does not sustain quite long enough,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “Those are the two things he needs to continue to get better at.”
Clearly the Vikings are intrigued by Collins, who ran an outstanding 4.81 40-yard dash at the 2017 NFL Combine. If the Vikings are looking for the most athletic lineman to run a zone blocking scheme and effective screen game, he could have a shot at winning the job.
“AC is very athletic, big guy, has some power, good feet, has some nasty streak,” Zimmer said.
Left guard isn’t the only position with a question mark. As you’ll see on the play below, Rashod Hill had a spotty preseason debut.
Roc Thomas TD pic.twitter.com/PKmROlWv9p
— Arif Hasan (@ArifHasanNFL) August 12, 2018
Hill started eight games last year because of injuries on the O-line and had ups and downs. Thus far he has split reps with O’Neill because of an illness. While O’Neill does not appear to be ready to start yet, he played well on Saturday night, opening the door to the potential for more chances in the preseason games going forward.
On O’Neill, Pro Football Focus wrote:
Rookie Brian O’Neill had an impressive debut as a pass blocking. Over the course of 23 pass-blocking snaps O’Neill did not surrender a single pressure. While he did well protecting the quarterback. The second-round draft pick was less impressive in the running game, finishing with a run-blocking grade of 48.2.
It’s also possible the Vikings could consider moving Remmers back to right tackle if they are happy with the Compton/Isidora combo at guard and lacking confidence in Hill and O’Neill. During OTAs Remmers played right tackle for one week, but hasn’t been there since. However, he has far more experience at tackle than guard.
The Vikings are also still a month away from the beginning of the season. That’s plenty of time to add another free agent if they are not happy with what they have seen. The Star Tribune reported the team reached out to retired lineman Joe Berger, who is staying retired. That gives us a window into the uncertainty up front.