The Vikings will begin practicing against the Jaguars for two days beginning tomorrow, leading up to their game on Saturday at US Bank Stadium.
Jacksonville has one of the best defensive lines in the league, and also one of the deepest. For the Vikings coaching staff, having this extended time against another top defensive line may provide the best opportunity to evaluate their offensive linemen during the entire training camp and pre-season.
So for the many offensive linemen competing for a starting job or a roster spot, how they perform the next few days could go a long way in determining their fate.
For the Vikings interior linemen, going up against Malik Jackson and Marcell Dareus should provide a big challenge. And for the Vikings tackles, competing against Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue should provide a test as well. Of course the offensive linemen are used to competing against the best in Everson Griffen, Sheldon Richardson, Linval Joseph and Danielle Hunter (and yes as a group they’re better than the Jags front four). But the Jags’ front four are top guys they’re likely facing for the first time, so it will give coaches a chance to evaluate how they adapt and perform against guys they’re not used to playing against everyday - more like a real game situation.
The Jaguars are also deep at defensive line, so for backups to be going against Michael Bennett, Taven Bryan, Abry Jones and Eli Ankou it should be a good test as well - even with Dante Fowler Jr. not making the trip as backup DE.
DETERMINING THE STARTING FIVE
These are the last days of training camp, and next week’s third pre-season game against Seattle is typically the ‘dress rehearsal’ game for the regular season opener. That being the case, the Vikings will want to determine who their starting five offensive linemen will be so they can get as much work together - including the game against the Seahawks - as possible.
So these next few days will likely be key in determining the starters next week against Seattle and most likely the regular season.
KEY POSITION BATTLES
The most competitive spot on the Vikings offensive line is likely to be left guard. Tom Compton has the lead for the moment, but competition is fierce and he’ll need to show more than he did against Denver in all likelihood to keep that starting spot. Danny Isidora, Aviante Collins, and Josh Andrews are all in the mix for that spot too, and all had decent games against Denver that, if they’re able to build on those performances, could win them a starting job.
It’s unclear, but seemingly unlikely at this point, that Mike Remmers will get much action at right guard against the Jaguars. He could be back, but we’ll just have to wait and see. But if he isn’t ready to go, that could provide more rep opportunities for prospective guards on the right side. So far Danny Isidora has been getting those with the first team, and I would expect that to continue. But Aviante Collins and Josh Andrews could be plugged in there too.
Another spot that could be competitive is right tackle. It would seem that Rashod Hill has a pretty good hold on the starting spot there, but Brian O’Neill continues to improve and has been getting first team reps in Hill’s injury absence. If O’Neill is going to overtake Hill at right tackle, he’s gonna have to show up big against the Jags’ defensive ends. This will be a big test for him. Rashod Hill could use to show up better himself if he is to cast away any doubt about his starting status.
There is yet another competitive position along the Vikings offensive line, and that is center. Cornelius Edison is in the driver’s seat here, but Josh Andrews is competing there as well. But how well Edison does will not only effect Andrews’ chances to start at center, but also those of Pat Elflein. Elflein of course is on the PUP list and won’t participate against the Jaguars, and therefore it would seem also unlikely to play against Seattle. He would have to show remarkable recovery and grasp of the new offense in just a few days to really have a chance at starting week one. I don’t think that’s realistic. More realistic is that he stays on the PUP list to start the season and then is required to stay there for six weeks.
In any case, just how well Cornelius Edison does at center these next few days will determine what urgency, if any, there is for Pat Elflein’s return. For Josh Andrews, it would take a very strong performance along with some doubt about Edison for the Vikings to make a change at center at this point. Edison has been working with Cousins all of training camp, and has looked decent in the process, so I expect the Vikings coaching staff would like to keep that battery intact into the regular season barring some very convincing out-performance by Andrews.
Riley Reiff at left tackle is a lock for the starting job, but his backup is a question at this point. Is it Rashod Hill - with Brian O’Neill stepping in at right tackle? Or could it be Aviante Collins - whose taken most of the second team reps at left tackle? The Vikings coaching staff has focused both Hill and O’Neill at right tackle so far, and I don’t know that either have spent much time at left tackle during training camp. Hill was the backup for Reiff last season, but Aviante Collins is listed as the backup in the depth chart.
Lastly, just how comfortable the Vikings are with the guards on their roster may also decide Nick Easton’s fate. He’s on IR with a $2.9 million salary cap hit and no dead cap on a one-year RFA tender. It would seem very unlikely that the Vikings will keep Easton’s salary cap on the books, especially if they don’t see a compelling need for his services next season. I wouldn’t be surprised if he is released with an injury settlement at the end of pre-season.
There are a lot of moving parts in the competitions along the offensive line, but we may see more clarity by the end of Saturday’s game with the Jaguars. It will be difficult for any of the guys competing for a starting spot to overcome a poor performance the next few days, and a particularly strong one could elevate a player into a starting role. Stay tuned.
Which of These Offensive Lineman will have the Best Game Against the Jaguars?
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