These are the times that try men’s souls.*
*Not really, It’s just football.
When the Minnesota Vikings convened in Eagan for training camp, the last unit that needed disruption and injury chaos was the offensive line, because it was a unit that was moving last year’s RT to RG, some young guys looking to win a starting job, and had two guys coming back from injury.
So of course, the offensive line has been devastated with injuries from the outset, and the most recent news about Nick Easton has thrown a serious wrench into getting the line ready for the regular season. It was also announced by head coach Mike Zimmer a short while ago that Easton will be placed on Injured Reserve, officially ending his season:
The news is disheartening on a couple levels, and the Vikings now have two issues to figure out, not one.
Easton was penciled in as the starting left guard, but what’s almost as bad is that he’s also the backup center to Pat Elflein...who is also injured, but working towards practicing the week after the second pre-season game. So, for now, the Vikings have exactly one serviceable center on the roster, Cornelius Edison, who is not to be confused with Yukon Cornelius. (Look, I’m going to run this joke/reference into the ground, so get used to it and don’t complain).
Losing Easton not only costs them a starting left guard, but also added flexibility and depth along the line. So not only do they need a left guard, they also need a guy that brings position flexibility. Let’s take a look at what some options might be. We’ll start with some free agents.
Free Agent Guards:
Luke Joeckel. Joeckel played in 11 games last year at both left and right guard. He came in to the league in 2013 as the number two overall pick to Jacksonville, and started his career as a tackle. Last year he amassed an overall rating of 58.7 per Pro Football Focus.
Jeff Allen. Started his career in Kansas City, and spent the last two years with Houston. Started 26 games over two years with the Texans at both guard positions and at left tackle. Had an overall PFF rating of 50.2.
Richie Incognito. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA...after the ‘eff you Zim’ tweet that followed the texts that show him and the late Tony Sparano chatting but in no way offering him a job, and then the subsequent ‘my bad’ apology tweet, the chances of the Vikings bringing Incognito in to play guard are about as good as them bringing ME in to play guard. Still, though, Incognito had a good year last seaspn, and from a pure on the field perspective his 74.4 PFF rating makes you go WELLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL.....but it ain’t happening.
Joe Berger. Could the Vikings lure Berger out of retirement for one more run at a title? He seemed to waiver a little bit about whether or not he was going to retire in the off-season before deciding to hang it up, so...maybe? Berger would be the easy answer here and could slide right in to LG. More importantly, he could also backup or play at center, where he started for the better part of two years in 2015 and 2016. Berger has been the Vikes best offensive lineman for the last few seasons (74.0 rating last year per PFF), and I think if he was willing to give it one more go, the Vikes would welcome him back with open arms. Heck, I would.
Jahri Evans. Jahri Evans is as experienced as Joe Berger, and played last season in Green Bay after playing 11 seasons in New Orleans. He’s been a RG most of his career, but played both guard positions last season. He has the strongest resume of any of the free agents that aren’t Richie Incognito, making six consecutive Pro Bowls from 2009-2014. He had an overall PFF grade of 70.4, but a pass blocking grade of over 78, which is second best behind Incognito’s 84.4 (why do you have to be a nutjob, Richie?). Evans has said as late as April he wants to play again this year, so if Berger is wanting to stay retired (and I don’t blame him one bit if he does), I think Evans is probably the guy the Vikings will pick up the phone and call first if they look to an available free agent.
Tom Compton: Compton gives the Vikings flexibility in that he’s played every position except center, so he becomes one of the top candidates to fill in for Easton on the left side. He’s been having a good camp, and it looks like as of right now, he’s the guy:
As expected, the "first team" OL:— Arif Hasan (@ArifHasanNFL) August 9, 2018
Of course, this first team still has Mike Remmers and Pat Elflein out, so take the right side of Isidora and Hill with a grain of salt. That’s because it looks like Danny Isidora has his foot in the door to start on the left side, per our old friend and colleague Arif, who also projects a possible starting line for week one:
this got a little more important— Arif Hasan (@ArifHasanNFL) August 9, 2018
tho srsly it's between isidora and compton right now https://t.co/bCQRbGnPBJ
Reiff, ?, Elflein, Remmers, Hill— Arif Hasan (@ArifHasanNFL) August 9, 2018
Hoping O'Neill proves enough to start at RT and I think Isidora is the better option at LG between him and Compton
But yeah, let’s not just count out Aviante Collins, either:
Zimmer had good things to say about Collins, still working on his "nasty streak." Says Isidora still needs to work on his footwork and holding his blocks at the second level.— Eric Thompson (@eric_j_thompson) August 9, 2018
The only remaining issue is who the backup center would be. Oh, wait...maybe not.
Cornelius Edison. Based on what OC John DeFillipo said yesterday in his press conference, Edison is making a strong push for a roster spot now:
Q: What have you seen from Cornelius Edision as he’s gone from the practice squad to taking reps with the first team in camp?
A: I tell you, he has stepped in and done well, really well. I’m proud of him. He plays with great leverage, he has strong hands, he stays low to the ground, and he’s smart. He hasn’t messed up a snap yet in terms of the cadence. He’s done a fantastic job with stepping in there, and we’re happy where he’s at.
I’ll feel a lot more comfortable when Elflein comes back, but don’t be surprised if Edison plays himself on to the roster as the backup C if he keeps this up.
If for some reason what Flip is saying about Edison is just training camp fluff and smoke, my guess is the Vikings might go with Isidora as a starter, and make Compton the new Berger super sub—a guy that can play anywhere on the line, and get him schooled up to be a center in a pinch.
Overall, I’m not too panicked yet, as long as Elflein and Remmers return, and everything points to that happening. The Vikings still have literally one month to figure things out, and once the other two guys return, things should settle out in fairly short order.
Take a deep breath. In through the nose, out through the mouth. WOOOOOOSAHHHH! I mean, Mike Zimmer isn’t worried:
Zimmer: "I know everybody's nervous about our line but I like how they're working." Says "the word is calm. Tweet that."— Eric Thompson (@eric_j_thompson) August 9, 2018
Apparently "Tweet That" shirts are already in the works for @ZimFoundation!
Mike Zimmer really wants us to tweet that we should remain calm about the offensive line, and that he really likes the mentality they've approached everything with— Arif Hasan (@ArifHasanNFL) August 9, 2018
We now return you to your regularly scheduled panic session.