Vikings’ Depleted Offensive Line Opens an Opportunity for Overlooked Rookie

Injuries May Implode the Vikings Playoff Hopes
Dec 5, 2021; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Brian O'Neill (75) leads his team to the field to play the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings’ depleted offensive line gives us reason for concern.

Far too often, Vikings fans succumb to doom-and-gloom thinking following a loss. At the end of the day, a loss is simply that: getting beat in one individual game. So far, Kevin O’Connell has been able to avoid any losing streaks in his still-young coaching career, always bouncing back from a defeat with a victory.

More concerning, though, is that O’Connell will need to keep this trend going with the Vikings’ battered and bruised OL.

The Vikings’ Depleted Offensive Line

Going into the game, Minnesota knew it was operating without Garrett Bradbury. The 2019 first-rounder has been enjoying a breakout season, one that suggests he could become the long-term solution that many hoped he’d be when the 18th pick was used on him. Unfortunately, a back injury has kept him on the sidelines.

Austin Schlottmann was thus tasked with being the C1 in Week 17. However, his season will be done given that he broke his leg.

The expectation is that Bradbury will be back for the opening round of the playoffs. Ideally, there won’t be too much rust. Minnesota will be relying on him to offer some strong play, especially since the right side of the line may struggle.

Possibly the most discouraging news to come from the Packers game is the injury to Brian O’Neill, a cornerstone offensive player. He is a top 10 tackle in the PFF system.

Put simply, it’s near impossible to replace a player of O’Neill’s calibre. He’s a sensational right tackle, someone who keeps his QB upright with great consistency.

Aug 27, 2021; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Oli Udoh. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports.

Compounding the issue is the injury to Blake Brandel, Minnesota’s OT3. It’s the injuries to the backups that’s most discouraging for the Vikings’ depleted offensive line. It’s one thing to pivot toward your main backup; it’s quite another to have to rely on the backup’s backup.

O’Connell indicated in his post-game press conference that Oli Udoh is going to be an important man in the near future. The 2019 sixth-rounder certainly has the size – he’s 6’6″, 320 – to be an NFL offensive tackle, but he’s unlikely to match O’Neill’s play. Last year, Udoh played RG, and fans will remember some of the struggles. Udoh will now be tasked with taking on edge rushers, players who are generally longer and more explosive than DTs.

The Potential for Vederian Lowe

When he was chosen in the sixth round during the most recent draft, Vederian Lowe was no lock to make the roster. The team was set with their clear-cut starting two. After Darrisaw and O’Neill was Blake Brandel and Oli Udoh, two players who could do a solid job as the OT3 and OT4.

Lowe thus had to grind it out to prove he belonged on the 53-man roster.

So far, the rookie offensive tackle hasn’t had much opportunity to get onto the field. He has been active for 3 games and his handful of snaps – 13 overall – have all come on special teams.

The lingering threat of growing even thinner along the offensive line opens the possibility of not just game action, but maybe even getting the start. Kevin O’Connell may opt to sit his starters in preparation for the playoffs. With Christian Darrisaw on the bench, Vederian Lowe may be the team’s best option at tackle.

Obviously, it won’t be easy to go from 0 offensive snaps to potentially being relied upon to play all the snaps. The one positive, perhaps, is that Chicago’s roster isn’t the best in the NFL (far from it). As a result, it could be a good opportunity to put some reps on film. Lowe could then head into the offseason with some valuable snaps and an opportunity to see what he still has to work on.

The Chicago game will take place at Soldier Field. A win would push the Vikings to 13 wins.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference helped with this piece.

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