According to the Mayan calendar and a pretty terrible movie featuring John Cusack, the world is supposed to end in 2012.
For the Vikings and their fans, it looks like the apocalypse came a year early.
At 2-11, there is next to nothing left to play for besides avoiding the franchise's worst record of all time. In these trying times, the only thing that keeps us fans going in looking to the future.
We've already done plenty of looking ahead and speculating in this space throughout the past few weeks, but the Daily Norseman writers have decided to get a little more formal about it and create a new ongoing feature. I have decided to call it "Project 2012". Simple and slightly boring title? Yeah, probably, but after an exhaustive email thread between us we couldn't really come up with anything clever and informative that we could agree upon. (I suggested a few musical-based themes, but apparently Skol Girl has called dibs on every applicable song ever for future posts. But I digress.)
What we're planning on doing with this feature is going through some hot-button Vikings players and decide what their roles should be next season. You'll get to hear from every DN writer to get their opinion, and then you can tell us yours in the comments section and accompanying polls. Think of it as a kind of online roundtable discussion. Our first subject: Phil Loadholt.
Understatement alert: Minnesota's starting right tackle hasn't had a great year. The 6'8", 340-pound man mountain came with lots of promise out of Oklahoma in 2009. He has started all but one game since joining the team, but his durability hasn't necessarily translated into effectiveness. Loadholt's run blocking has been solid for the most part, but he has been an absolute turnstile at times against pass rushers.
While I'm watching yet another defensive end blow by Loadholt on his way to Christian Ponder during the games, my instant, visceral reaction is that the Vikings should can this guy on the spot. But if I step back and take a more cerebral approach to it, I realize that it isn't completely cut and dry. Like I already mentioned, Loadholt is always out there--he has missed exactly one game in his first three years in the NFL. And it is only his third year. Of course I would have liked to see progress instead of regression this year, but Loadholt is only 25. It's not inconceivable to think he can improve.
And with one year left in his rookie contract, keeping Loadholt around wouldn't be terribly expensive. With so many other holes to fill on this team, I actually think we should keep him around in 2012. If the Vikings can pick up a better player for a reasonable price and relegate Loadholt to the bench, I wouldn't be against it. While there might not be many people bigger than Phil, the Vikings probably have bigger problems than him.
But that's just my opinion. Here's what the rest of the DN staff had to say about #71:
Chris: Loadholt frustrates the hell out of me. He's a really good run blocker, from everything I've seen of him, but in pass blocking he's completely lost. Yes, I know a dude that big is going to have issues with speed rushers, but after nearly three full seasons, he's getting destroyed by guys that someone with his talent has no business getting destroyed by. I don't know if moving him in to guard would be a great idea, because quarterbacks are going to have a hell of a time seeing over someone 6'7" at the guard position. If he was willing to drop some weight and work on his agility in the off-season, I still think he could be an outstanding right tackle. In any case, I don't think he's going anywhere because he's still under a fairly cheap rookie contract, but hopefully he can show us more in 2012 than he's shown us this season.
Ted: Phil Loadholt: I say 'Adios', but with a caveat:
The Vikes got rid of Bryant McKinnie...and Charlie Johnson has been a major downgrade. But at least they had a serviceable vet (we thought) BEFORE McKinnie was cut.
Who do we have behind Loadholt? Brandon Fusco? DeMarcus Love? Will Scott Kooistra be able to play again, or is neck injury career ending? Look, Loadholt is a train wreck as a pass blocker, and I don't think he's going to get any better. As much as I'd like to see these young kids play, there's probably a reason they aren't, and that's because they're not as good as Loadholt.
Get someone to replace and upgrade, fine. If not, well, we're stuck with him until they do.
Kyle: My opinion? My grandma can block better. What, something more? OK.
I think Loadholt has been inconsistent and has been given long enough to develop. That said, his position isn't the one of critical need right now in terms of O-line: that honor belongs to Charlie Johnson at LT. Seeing as how the entire O-line pretty much needs to be replaced, I imagine in terms of drafting the next line, we're going BPA. Therefore, if his position doesn't come up, he's safe for now. As with all things, the question remains: "Is there someone better to replace him with?", and I'm not sure if Patrick Brown would make that answer "Yes". Now, for what it's worth, I'd love to just start putting DeMarcus Love in there, at least for a few snaps over the next meaningless games, to see if maybe he might be an upgrade. But if not, then Loadholt will remain unless his succesor is drafted.
Skol Girl: I wonder if his slump during the course of his three years in the league isn't, in part, a coaching failure. During his rookie season, Loadholt showed promise and it was easy to see why the Vikings drafted him. And, we also had Bryant McKinnie to rip on. Since then Loadholt's experienced a two-year slump. Frequently, when he's called for an offensive holding penalty is looks like he's using his hands to make up for a lack of footwork that would put him in position and give him leverage on a block. If coaching focused on footwork and technique can improve him, then I say the Vikings keep Loadholt. But if it can't, then I think they may have to cut their losses because, even though he's a 6'8" 330lb mountain of a guy, if he isn't mobile he isn't effective.
Mark: Loadholt has one more year left on his rookie contract after this year. And it is affordable. I say keep him through 2012 and put him on a short leash. At the same time, players often times do much better when they are playing for a contract. Sullivan is stepping it up big time this year and is probably our best lineman (if you believe Pro Football Focus). So Loadholt should get the same courtesy as Sullivan. The reality is they need him so it would be foolish to let him go. I think that Love and Brown will be better next year too. Fusco as well.
I hope Loadholt does a Sullivan next year for us!
So that's what the Daily Norseman writers think. What about you? Let us know in the poll and the comments section.