The Vikings’ Offensive Line Reinforcements are Arriving at the Right Time

Oct 2, 2022; London, United Kingdom; Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Blake Brandel (64) during the NFL International Series game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter van den Berg-USA TODAY Sports

The word from yesterday’s practice and injury report is that the Vikings’ offensive line may be getting some much-needed reinforcements.

As we all know by now, Brian O’Neill has been lost for the season due to an achilles tear. It’s a brutal bit of news for both the player and the team. O’Neill is one of the league’s foremost tackles, a player who quietly provides stellar play for his squad.

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Sep 11, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Brian O’Neill (75) and Green Bay Packers linebacker Rashan Gary (52) in action at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Oli Udoh – a fourth-year tackle who played his college ball at Elon – is the man tasked with filling in. Last week, Udoh did a nice job against the Bears. While the play was encouraging, we still need to remember that the opponent was the Bears. Chicago finished the year with the worst record in the NFL, an outcome they fully earned by moving on from many of their best players last offseason and during the year.

My assumption is that Kevin O’Connell will be turning to Udoh against the Giants, but that’s far from a guarantee. Blake Brandel has been designated to return from the IR. Until his injury, Brandel was the OT3. He filled in admirably along the left side when Christian Darrisaw needed to miss time. Had he avoided his injury, he likely would have been the fill-in for O’Neill after the achilles injury.

Getting Brandel back into the fold gives O’Connell the option to have a bit of a competition for the starting spot in the playoffs. Perhaps even more importantly, if there is an injury – God forbid – to another tackle, the team now has 3 players they feel reasonably confident in for the assignment.

The current OT4 is rookie Vederian Lowe. He got his first offensive snaps in the NFL during last week’s Bears win.

The other bit of encouraging news is that Garrett Bradbury returned to practice. The 2022 season has easily been his best since being a first-round selection in the 2019 Draft. Coming into the year, most onlookers (including yours truly) thought that the best course of action would be to move on to a different option at center, possibly by making a move for J.C. Tretter. How wrong we were.

Sep 19, 2022; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Minnesota Vikings center Garrett Bradbury (56) snaps the football along side of guard Ezra Cleveland. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports.

Bradbury, despite the missed time due to injury, still comes in at 10th overall among centers on PFF. His 72.4 run-blocking grade is 9th out of 36, and his pass blocking isn’t too shabby: a 68.1 grade that comes in at 16th among 39 who are considered.

Returning to practice isn’t the same thing as playing an NFL playoff game. Oh, and let’s not forget that he’d be lining up against Dexter Lawrence, a humongous human who is one of the NFL’s very best DTs. Whoever gets the start – Bradbury or possibly Chris Reed – is going to have his hands full.

My guess is Reed is the C1 on Sunday.

One has to assume that Kevin O’Connell would love to find some success running the football. Losing O’Neill means keeping Kirk Cousins off the ground is going to be considerably more challenging. Deflating the pass rush by grinding out first downs with Dalvin Cook & Alexander Mattison is a great place to start for Minnesota. The Vikings’ offensive line would likely be very pleased to fire off the ball and move blue defensive linemen back.

Getting beat in the opening round of the playoffs would be a very disappointing result. Thankfully, the offensive line looks like it’s getting healthier at the right time.

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