The Vikings just signed former Titans’ right-guard Josh Kline to a 3-year, $15.75 million contract, which will make him the 2nd highest paid offensive lineman on the team. It’s also not the type of money you pay a back-up interior lineman, so that makes him a starter.
And considering that Kline has played mostly right guard in the NFL, it stands to reason that’s where the Vikings would like him to play as well- particularly given this tweet:
Josh Kline says the Vikings relayed playing right guard to him, which is where he has 46 consecutive starts. "I wouldn't say I'm the starter right away, but you've got to act like you are. You've got to work your tail off in this league no matter what."— Courtney Cronin (@CourtneyRCronin) March 21, 2019
Kline went on to describe the Vikings scheme as an outside-zone oriented, West Coast Offense with the same terminology as what he had in Tennessee:
Kline says the Vikings scheme is 'similar' to his last season in Tennessee. "Outside zone-oriented, and it's got that West Coast feel. The terminology is the same, basically verbatim, so it's really going to help out with the transition from Tennessee to Minnesota."— Courtney Cronin (@CourtneyRCronin) March 21, 2019
Okay, having established all that, let’s take a look at what Kline’s done in the past, how he’s performed, and whether he may be able to thrive in Gary Kubiak’s scheme in Minnesota.
He Can Play Guard, But Can He Be Good?
Josh Kline goes about 6’3”, 310lbs., and was a undrafted free agent out of Kent State back in 2013 who signed with the New England Patriots. There he was on and off the Patriots practice squad his first season, and in 2014 saw a little more action due to injuries.
But it wasn’t until 2015 that he got the equivalent of a full-year’s worth of snaps - again due to injuries - and was split about equally between left and right guard. He put up his best PFF run blocking grade that year (74.5) and a 71.0 overall grade.
After the 2015 season he had shoulder surgery and was let go by the Patriots at the end of the pre-season. He was picked up off of waivers by the Titans the next day, and began starting for them at right guard two weeks later. Coached by former All-Pro Russ Grimm, Kline improved his pass protection both years in Tennessee under his tutelage, although his run blocking declined. The Titans’ OL was ranked 5th overall in 2016, and 1st in 2017 according to PFF.
After the 2017 season, Titans’ head coach Mike Mularkey was fired and a whole new offensive staff came in with a new scheme under OC Matt LaFleur and head coach Mike Vrabel. Kline was signed for a 4-year, $26 million extension.
But Kline didn’t grade out as well in the new system, nor did any of the returning starters for that matter, earning his worst PFF grade of 58.0 overall last season, including a 67.5 pass protection grade and a 53.1 run blocking grade. And so the Titans released him only a year into his new contract, eating $3.5 million in dead cap.
All that doesn’t look so good on his resume, and yet there is video evidence Kline has what it takes to be at least an above average guard in the NFL - the problem may be more one of consistency and/or getting in the right fit from a scheme, personnel and coaching standpoint.
Josh Kline (#64) on Tape
I didn’t get the sense watching Kline’s tape last season that he was the weak link in the Titans offensive line - either run or pass blocking. I did get the sense that he’s a strong guy that can hold his own against even the best defensive linemen. I also saw a guy that likes to block guys and be physical. I didn’t see a guy that was beaten off the snap, or really struggled with any particular aspect of his job. Sometimes when watching an offensive lineman, you see a guy struggling even though he does a decent job most of the time. And so at the same time, you’re not surprised when he gets beat and gives up a sack or TFL. I didn’t have that feeling watching Josh Kline last season - which was his worst according to PFF.
Here are some examples of what I saw:
Here Kline pulls and pancakes Whitney Mercilus - a pretty good edge rusher for the Texans - clearing a hole for Derrick Henry on this direct-snap counter run week 2 last season.
And again - on no less than Fletcher Cox - in pass protection week 4:
Again the same game in pass protection against Michael Bennett:
Against Fletcher Cox again:
While those first two GIFs were ‘Wow’ plays, I included a couple others that are indicative of how he matched up more routinely against some of the better defensive linemen in the league last year.
What Stands Out About Kline
After watching both Houston games last year, and the Eagles game - two of the better defensive fronts in the league - one thing stands out about Kline: he doesn’t lose one on one match-ups much, if at all. Most of the time he looks like a big, strong guy holding his own against some of the best in the league. I didn’t notice his guy making any plays, nor did I ever get the sense that he was overwhelmed. Most of the time he seemed in control.
He also appeared to look for work when uncovered or he sensed more pressure coming from the guy next to him and shifted to help out. He has a good sense on zone blocking of when to release from his initial combination block and go to the next level.
If I had to criticize Kline’s play, I’d say that on a couple occasions he was holding - some called, some not - with his arm around the defender to prevent him getting past. A few times he appeared to give a little too much ground initially in pass protection. And while he likes to look for work as a downfield blocker, he can have some trouble securing open field blocks at times. Lastly, sometimes his cut blocks on the backside of the play were not that great. But these are all relatively minor issues.
Overall last season Kline gave up four sacks. Two of them came against the Colts week 11:
Both sacks came on nice inside moves when the Titans were down 24-0 and 31-3. In other words, the defense was in all pass-rush, all the time mode with a very comfortable lead at home.
Other than the four sacks last season - Kline’s worst - he gave up a total of 34 hurries. Eight of those came in the second Houston game. Other than that he gave up no more than 4 hurries in any other game. There were nine games when he gave up only one hurry or less and no sacks or QB hits.
In Kline’s previous two season with Tennessee, he gave up 22 total pressures each season, including an average of 2.5 sacks/year. Those were the type of numbers Joe Berger put up in 2017, which would be a big improvement over Mike Remmers (42 pressures including 7 sacks and 5 QB hits) last season.
In terms of run blocking, I seldom if ever saw Kline’s guy make a stop or a tackle for loss. While the Titans running game was mixed, I wouldn’t put the blame on Kline in all the running plays I watched - and I watched every Derrick Henry carry last year. In general Kline did well to make his block and was always working, although sometimes it wasn’t pretty or went to no avail as others didn’t make their blocks.
Here are a couple examples of Kline run blocking:
This last one was Kline on Dalvin Tomlinson, a pretty good interior lineman. From all the tape I’ve watched, Kline can handle top defensive linemen and not be overwhelmed. That GIF against Tomlinson and the earlier one against Cox run blocking are good representations of how Kline can handle these guys run blocking. In general, once he latches on, he wins.
In this one Kline does a nice job moving off the combo block to pick up the charging linebacker, allowing Henry to pick up a nice gain.
This last one is Kline on an outside zone run - something Kubiak has run a lot in the past. Nothing special here, but indicative of how he was generally on these plays.
Below is a rare example of Kline missing a run block. Notice he gets away with a bit of a hold as Henry bounces outside.
Below is Kline combo blocking and moving to the second level. His guy ultimately makes the tackle, but not until after a 10-yard gain.
Here’s another example of Kline moving off his initial combo block to the next level:
Kline moves quickly off #90 Taven Bryan and makes sure #44 Miles Jack overruns the play, allowing Henry to pick up a nice gain.
Here is Kline on another pull - trap block. This time on Yannick Ngakoue.
No pancake this time, but gets the job done. Don’t be surprised if the Vikings mix this play in (although perhaps not a direct snap) next season for the Vikings.
Below Kline clears out Marcell Dareus, opening it up for a Henry TD run:
Lastly, here’s Kline battling the Patriots #93 Lawrence Guy - an elite DL and run defender last season - over three plays. Tough battle each play, but Kline generally did well enough for his runner to make some decent gains.
Kline turned 29 last December, so from an age standpoint, should still have some good years left in him.
From all I’ve watched on tape, it seems a good chance Kline could prove to be an upgrade at right guard over last season, perhaps performing up to Joe Berger’s level in previous years.
In any case, I don’t get the sense that Kline will be the weak link along the Vikings offensive line next season, given his performance over the past few years. There’s always the chance that Kline doesn’t respond well to the new situation - team, scheme, coaches, etc. - but playing the same position and in a similar scheme should help minimize transition issues.
Will Josh Kline Upgrade the Right Guard Position This Season ?
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