Vikings Shuffle Players Around, Give their iOL a Jolt

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Buffalo Bills
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The release of the first depth chart, even an unofficial one, is always reason for intrigue.

After all, fans have been speculating for months where certain players fit into the roster hierarchy. True, plenty of spots (QB1, WR1, EDGE1, etc.) offer basically no reason for uncertainty, but there are plenty of spots that leave more room for doubt and conjecture. The Vikings shuffle along the iOL is one of the particularly notable components of the depth chart.

In particular, the new assignment for backup OT Blake Brandel is one that catches the eye.

The Vikings Shuffle Players at iOL

Much has been made of the continuity up front. All five starters at OL are still in the Twin Cities, meaning the Vikings have the potential to build off of their improved blocking from 2022.

NFL: New England Patriots at Minnesota Vikings
Nov 20, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) and wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) and offensive tackle Blake Brandel (64) and teammates react during the game against the New England Patriots at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

For the most part, maintaining continuity is a good thing, especially when we remember that the players we’re discussing are all still young. Christian Darrisaw, Ezra Cleveland, and Ed Ingram are all working on their rookie deals. Garrett Bradbury is just coming off of his and Brian O’Neill is still only 27. So, no grey beards among the starting five.

Along the interior of the OL, though, there are some reasons for concern. Up until last season, Bradbury had earned the label “bust” (though his 2022 performance was considerably stronger). Cleveland has certainly been a positive but he needs to develop more as a pass protector. Ingram offers the most reason for concern, struggling as a rookie. He was dinged with allowing 11 sacks, 18 hits, and 58 pressures. Making matters even worse is that he stepped on his QB’s foot multiple times, causing Cousins to hit the dirt before the play could develop.

A rookie season to forget — and hopefully improve upon — for Mr. Ingram.

Questions Answered: Faith in Ed Ingram, Nick Mullens, O'Connell's Former Teams
Aug 14, 2022; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Minnesota Vikings guard Ed Ingram. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports..

Thankfully, the Vikings are exploring various options to help fortify the iOL. With Mike Zimmer in charge, the Vikings regularly played musical chairs along the OL, asking the big fellas to swap spots if it meant getting a better fivesome onto the gridiron. Kevin O’Connell seems to be flirting with a similar approach through the initial weeks of training camp.

Blake Brandel, a strong backup at OT, has kicked inside to RG. He is being listed as the main backup at the spot. Since Oli Udoh is also at OT, Brandel’s move isn’t altogether surprising. The rationale seems to involve plundering a position of strength — offensive tackle — to help address a position that’s not as deep.

Furthermore, Josh Frey points out that Brandel’s spot at RG may be contingent on the Reed injury. Brandel may kick back outside to his normal position once the veteran returns.

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Minnesota Vikings
Dec 26, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) and guard Oli Udoh (74) and center Garrett Bradbury (56) and guard Ezra Cleveland (72) in action against the Los Angeles Rams at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Somewhat surprisingly, Josh Sokol was listed as the backup LG after being a practice squad center in 2022. Predictably, Austin Schlottmann snags the C2 spot as Alan Ali gets slotted in as the C3.

There’s very little chance fans will see any of the OL starters when the Vikings’ opening preseason game arrives on August 10th. Instead, the backups will run the show for a night while trying to prove they belong in the NFL. Brandel is particularly fascinating given that he has proven to be such a strong depth player. Might a strong showing in the preseason prompt the coaching staff to keep the RG experiment going? If so, could a starting spot eventually be in play?

Otherwise, keep an eye on Sokol (#60) at left guard. He has the benefit of spending time with the Vikings last year, so he should have a strong grasp of what the offense wants to accomplish.

Editor’s Note: Information from PFF helped with this piece.