As Roster Reinforcements Arrive, Vikings Spring a Leak Along the Offensive Line

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

Good news: Justin Jefferson isn’t on the injury report going into the weekend. The NFL’s WR1 will be ready to roll, which will be welcome news for just about everyone who calls Minnesota home. Per the head coach, the Vikings won’t put any restrictions on Jefferson: “Expecting to have Justin out there a lot on Sunday.”

Meanwhile, Akayleb Evans will return, giving Brian Flores his full secondary to work with as the Vikings take on the Raiders. Most of the other players who were included earlier in the week — Kene Nwangwu, NaJee Thompson, and Khyiris Tonga — aren’t given an injury designation heading into the weekend. There are a pair of notable exceptions, though.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Minnesota Vikings
Sep 10, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Jordan Addison (3) reacts with wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) after scoring his first career touchdown pass from quarterback Kirk Cousins (not pictured) against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Defensively, Minnesota faces some uncertainty about the status of Theo Jackson. The defensive back is the fourth option for Flores at safety, meaning he gets into game action with some consistency, picking up 97 snaps on defense in 2023. The defender is working through an illness, but Kevin O’Connell said that Jackson was able to practice in full on Friday.

More notable, though, is what’s happening along the o-line. Ed Ingram, the starting right guard, heads into the contest with “Questionable” attached to his name. The issue is a hip injury.

Vikings Get Some Bad News Up Front as Others Return to Health

The LSU alumnus has faced no shortage of criticism for his on-field play. As a rookie, he routinely allowed pressure as he struggled to maintain his balance against the NFL’s powerful defensive tackles.

Something always working in his favor, though, has been his durability.

Without exaggeration, Ingram has played every single snap since being drafted. As a rookie, Ingram picked up 1,168 snaps with the offense during the regular season. Or, put differently, 100% of the total. Nothing changed in the postseason. Ingram was again on the field for every available snap.

Aug 20, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Ty Chandler (32) celebrates with Minnesota Vikings guard Ed Ingram (67) after scoring a touchdown during the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

While there were some initial bumps in the road, Ingram has put together a stronger sophomore season. His improvement comes alongside a continued ability to be constantly available. He’s up to 800 snaps with the offense. Again, that’s every single snap that the offense has played in 2023.

Standing directly to his right is Brian O’Neill, who has similarly been on the field for all 800 snaps. The end result is a very consistent right side that has the benefit of working in tandem on a snap-in, snap-out basis. Having the same blocking buddy along the o-line is the preferred route, so keep an eye on the position if Ingram can’t play. O’Neill would need to adjust to a new purple partner.

Brian O'Neill
Oct 2, 2022; London, United Kingdom; Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Brian O’Neill (75) during the NFL International Series game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter van den Berg-USA TODAY Sports

If the RG1 can’t go, the Vikings will turn to Blake Brandel. The fourth-year player is a tackle by trade who has kicked inside to guard. At various points in his career, Brandel has demonstrated his versatility, even picking up some snaps at tight end in a previous version of the Vikings’ offense. He can show off his versatility once again if there’s a need at right guard.

Flores won’t need to do too much to alter his defense if Jackson isn’t able to go. The top trio — Harrison Smith, Camryn Bynum, and Josh Metellus — routinely gobble up all of the snaps. Jackson would be the next man up if there was an injury or the need for a fourth safety, but the burden will shift to Jay Ward or Lewis Cine if necessary. The option also exists to lean a bit more heavily on the depth corners: Mekhi Blackmon and/or Andrew Booth Jr.

Nov 12, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) is tackled by Minnesota Vikings safety Theo Jackson (25) and safety Josh Metellus (44) during the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

At 6-6, Minnesota doesn’t have much margin for error. The competition for one of the final playoff spots is going to be intense, so having as much health as possible is obviously a desirable outcome in Minnesota.

Kickoff between the Vikings and Raiders takes place on Sunday, December 10th at 3:05 p.m.

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

K. Joudry is the Senior Editor for Vikings Territory and PurplePTSD. He has been covering the Vikings full time since the summer of 2021. He can be found on Twitter and as a co-host for Notes from the North, a humble Vikings podcast.