Vikings Injury Updates on Their Offensive Line Are Not Promising
The Minnesota Vikings certainly went through the ringer against the Green Bay Packers, and while no one reason can be fully at blame for their performance, losing both RT Brian O’Neill and C Austin Schlottmann during the game were not insignificant. This is especially so moving forward into the playoffs. On Monday, all eyes turned towards O’Neill’s MRI, and the Vikings injury updates on their offensive linemen are not promising heading into Week 18.
The Vikings right tackle suffered what Kevin O’Connell described as a “significant leg injury”, and he is already out for Week 18 against the Chicago Bears. Timetables are yet to be set for O’Neill, but the Vikings are likely to run out Oli Udoh for the time being. He played 45 snaps on Sunday and earned a PFF grade of 69.8.
Minnesota has had a number of problems along the offensive line this season going back to Christian Darrisaw’s concussions in back-to-back weeks earlier in the season. Blake Brandel stepped into his left tackle spot for three starts in Darrisaw’s place, but he also landed on IR because of a torn MCL, which ended his season.
Then, Garrett Bradbury also went down with a back injury, and he’s been out for the last four games. The Vikings veteran center has been under a lot of scrutiny in his first few NFL seasons, but in 2022, he’s stepped up in a way that no one saw coming and has certainly earned a chance at a new contract either with the Vikings or elsewhere as a starting center.
However, his injury meant that Austin Schlottmann had to quickly fill in the role of center for Minnesota. On Sunday in Green Bay, he suffered what has been diagnosed with a broken fibula, and he is likely done for the year as well.
That meant Chris Reed, the third stringer emergency center, had to step in and take snaps at the position, something he has never done at the NFL level. It was a very shaky day for Reed’s first snaps at the position, and miscommunications led to multiple delay of game and false start penalties.
Moving forward, this Vikings offensive line looks like an “all hands on deck” situation. Especially for Week 18 where the Vikings may look to get their usual starters some extra rest ahead of the playoffs, they could look to their remaining depth players to fill in the gaps.
Bradbury seems like a longshot to play against the Chicago Bears, which means Chris Reed is in line for a start. Behind him, guard Kyle Hinton may end up being his backup, who made his regular season NFL debut in Week 17 by taking five snaps with the special teams unit.
In addition, we could be in a spot where the Vikings give some opportunity to rookie sixth-round pick Vederian Lowe at a tackle spot. Lowe has been exclusively a special teamer in the three games he’s appeared in this season.
Given the Vikings usually have two stalwarts at the tackle spots in 2021 first-round pick Christian Darrisaw and recently extended Brian O’Neill, Lowe has been a somewhat overlooked part of this 2022 Draft class for the Vikings. His role suddenly may become bigger in Week 18 with the injuries, and it will be exciting to see what the rookie can do.
Overall, here’s where it seems the Vikings are at in terms of a patchwork offensive line for Sunday’s game against the Bears:
- LT: Christian Darrisaw
- LG: Ezra Cleveland
- C: Chris Reed (assuming Bradbury is out)
- RG: Ed Ingram
- RT: Oli Udoh
- Backups: T Vederian Lowe, G/C Kyle Hinton
Don’t count out the possibility of a potential free agency move to provide more depth, either (keep an eye out for another piece covering those possibilities, particularly at offensive tackle, in the coming days). Overall, it’s probably too early to panic regarding the status of the o-line for the playoffs as both Bradbury and O’Neill could certainly return by the Wild Card round.
However, let it be extremely clear: the Vikings will have an infinitely more difficult time stopping opposing defensive fronts if they are down both players any further than this upcoming Sunday. Minnesota needs these two if they are to make any noise in the playoffs.
Josh Frey is a Class of 2020 graduate of The College of Idaho with a bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing. He also earned minors in History, Human Biology, and Journalism. When he’s not writing about the NFL, Josh enjoys marathon training, playing video games, or rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks. For more of his opinions, check out his Twitter account: @Freyed_Chicken.