After reading some of Frazier's comments about Steve Hutchinson, Anthony Herrera and Brandon Fusco, in his latest press conference, it got me thinking about the makeup of the offensive line for next year. Some of our starters definitely won't be around next year, but what of our backups? What about the 2012 draft and free agency? What follows is a write-up of the current OL starters, and then what I hope the OL will look like in 2012.
2011 Offensive Line
LT: Charlie Johnson. He was a cheaper LT than McKinnie, and has played like it. He's a tad shorter and smaller than a typical LT at the NFL level, at only 6-4, 305 lbs. Most NFL tackles are a minimum of 6-5, 310 and larger and posses long arms to redirect pass rushers. Johnson has struggled to contain pass rushers this season.
LG: Steve Hutchinson. He's a 7-time pro-bowl guard who just went on IR before the final game of the year. Frazier said he'll have to discuss his future in the NFL with his family, and he very well may retire after 11 seasons in the NFL.
C: John Sullivan. He made huge strides after a disappointing 2010, and earned a new contract.
RG: Anthony Herrera. He's battled back from a knee injury he suffered in 2010, but is on the wrong side of 30. He's been a career overachiever being signed as an undrafted free agent in 2004, and being a starter since only 2007.
RT: Phil Loadholt. He's a dominant force in the run game, but lacks in pass protection. After a promising rookie year, and a disappointing 2010 plagued with injuries, he failed to take the leap forward in 2011.
DeMarcus Love - LT
Joe Berger - LG/C
Brandon Fusco - RG/C
Patrick Brown - RT
Projected 2012 Offensive Line
LT: Matt Kalil/Jonathan Martin. Depending on draft position, we're sure to draft one of these elite players to address the weakest link on the offensive line.
LG: Charlie Johnson. I think they give Charlie Johnson a look at LG, as he surely isn't the answer at LT. With Hutchinson going on IR, and Frazier saying, "I’m hoping that things will get better for him soon with the concussions for sure and that’s something I’m sure he and his family will discuss, what his future is and how much longer he wants to play professional football. He is still a guy who can play and be a positive addition to your football team but he’ll have some decisions he’ll have to make after this season is over." There's no guarantee that Hutch is back, and if he's not then Charlie Johnson projects better at the guard position due to his size, and has some experience playing guard for the Colts.
C: John Sullivan. He's our new long term starter at the center position and just earned a new deal.
RG: Brandon Fusco. He's shown flashes of potential in a backup role in his rookie season, and he can play center or guard. Maybe that makes him more valuable as a backup, but he's a mean guy in the trenches and would be a fierce addition to the O-line as a starter in 2012.
RT: Phil Loadholt. He'll be in a contract year in 2012, and if he can't make improvements in pass protection, I expect the Vikings to part ways with Loadholt after next year. He's a road grader in the run game, but he's a liability in the passing game, and at the NFL level, players need to be able to do both well.
LT: Late round draft choice (Jeff Adams or Bradley Sowell)
LG: Joe Berger
C: Joe Berger
RG: Mid-round draft choice (Peter Konz, Larry Warford)
RT: Mid-round draft choice (Tom Compton or Brandon Mosley)
A lot of this hinges on what Steve Hutchinson decides to do in the off-season, and what the team thinks of Anthony Herrera. I would love to see them go in a different direction at RG, and give a young guy with potential like Brandon Fusco a shot. For some reason I think they'll probably keep Herrera as the starter next year, but it's not what I hope they do. Give Fusco a full off-season and training camp, and see if he can plug in. If they are still sold on Herrera and if Hutch returns for a 12th season, they could very well only be replacing the LT position, and would keep a lot of the young guys on the roster as backups. It seems clear to me from watching the games, that we need to move in a new direction, and everyone except for Sullivan and possibly Loadholt should be put on notice.