Brian O’Neill’s week 17 injury, a partial tear of his left Achilles tendon, couldn't have come at a worse time for the 2022-23 Minnesota Vikings.
It is never a good time for an injury, but the tear came in the first quarter of what would become a throwaway game in Green Bay well after the Vikes secured a playoff birth. The injury followed a broken leg suffered by guard Austin Schlottman just a few plays prior.
It can’t be argued that both injuries decimated the Vikes' offensive line as the team was gearing up to kick off postseason play.
With 11 of 12 offensive linemen returning (Kyle Hinton joined the Falcons), things are starting to look up again as Minnesota’s O-line regains its strength, both literally and figuratively.
O’Neill recently held a presser at the team’s Eagan facility, giving an update that bodes well for the purple and gold.
“The process has been really smooth. Since the diagnosis there have been no surprises from the morning we took the MRI,” said O’Neill.
“I would say from a personal perspective I have taken the approach of let's get this right, let’s do it right,” said O’Neill. “There will be enough time. It’s more of what stage are we at right now, are we doing this right, and so far we have.”
Such an injury is something O’Neill hasn’t been through in his career, only suffering a mild concussion once in 2019. O’Neill has played 79 games across his time with Minnesota, a starter since 2018, and the group’s only Pro Bowler (2021).
“I've never really been through it,” said O’Neill of his injury when asked if there was going to be any trust issues. “Up until this point, it hasn’t been hard to trust.”
O’Neill talked about the chemistry that he has seen develop over this offseason, no doubt strengthened by the re-signing of C Garret Bradbury.
“In meetings and the film room, we’re all starting to think the same way about things. We’re really starting to understand the deeper levels of the schemes and the blocks we’re running. Having the same play caller around here for two years in a row is also something we haven’t really had,” said O’Neill.
The Vikings O-Line last year wasn’t terrible, or at least as bad as it had been in the past, but it wasn’t great either. It allowed 47 sacks, the 8th most in the league, but it also has seen Kirk Cousins’ pressure rate drop from 103.1 to 92.5.
At the same time, Kirk passed for career highs in yardage (an accolade no doubt buoyed by a strong receiving corps) and attempts. Cousins also had 3 seconds or less to throw the ball on 84% of his dropbacks, which isn't ideal but not horrific either.
The rushing game is unquestionably the area where the offensive line needs to improve the most. The Vikes gained a paltry 4.1 average yards per attempt and ranked 28th in rushing yards per game.
With the probable departure of Dalvin Cook (likely after June 1st), the O-line will need to really step up its ability to open lanes and provide crucial blocks if Alexander Mattison is hoping to fill some pretty big shoes.
With the offensive line experiencing the least amount of turnover of any group in the team from ‘22-’23 to ‘23-’24, do you see this as a year where a once-battered line regains its health/strength and steps up? Or does it continue to provide good-but-not-good-enough blocking for its QB and running backs?