Vikings Wisely Put Continuity in the Backseat, but the OL Can’t Get Put in a Blender

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Part of the appeal of Dalton Risner is that he’s capable of playing multiple positions.

Josh Frey, PurplePTSD managing editor and nice human being, has discussed Risner’s versatility before. Per Frey, the former Broncos o-lineman has college experience at right tackle and center. Risner then made left guard his full-time spot while patrolling the line of scrimmage in Denver. The background suggests that the Vikings wisely add a talented, versatile lineman at a time when the front five could use a hearty portion of help.

Splash in Free Agency
Jan 1, 2023; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Denver Broncos guard Dalton Risner (66) on field against the Kansas City Chiefs during a game at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Given the history, Risner carries a certain degree of mystery with him as he travels to Minnesota (as reported by Ian Rapoport). Where is he going to play?

Safe to say that right tackle is spoken for as Brian O’Neill proves he’s still one of the game’s best OTs. Center is similarly certain since Austin Schlottmann has been doing a reasonable job replacing starter Garrett Bradbury. The remaining trio of positions are left tackle, left guard, and right guard (to be clear, LT is only open momentarily since Christian Darrisaw is navigating an injury). Where does Risner slot in? Well, that’s something we can dissect, but putting the front five in a blender to accommodate the new addition would be a misguided move.

Vikings Wisely Add to the O-Line

Waiting so long to bring in outside help for the OL is a questionable move from Kevin O’Connell and Kwesi Adofo-Mensah.

Vikings Had the Worst Draft
Jul 27, 2022; Eagan, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah looks on at TCO Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

In fact, that precise question has been asked. ESPN’s Kevin Seifert is one such curious mind: “It’s definitely fair to ask why the Vikings left their interior OL intact after last season. As for why they didn’t sign Risner after his camp visit, Kevin O’Connell said at the time that he was ‘still working through that injury that he sustained this summer.'”

Truth be told, O’Connell’s answer isn’t particularly persuasive. Players get hurt all the time; teams work with injured players all the time. Sure, bringing in someone who is recovering from an injury is less than ideal, but the issues along Minnesota’s iOL have been evident for a long time. Partnering those issues with some very obvious interest in Risner — they did sign him, after all — suggests that we may be looking at a bit of a Minnesota misstep.

Aug 26, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell looks on before a game against the Arizona Cardinals at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone can see that Kirk Cousins gets hit far too often. Rather than run the football more to ease the burden on #8’s shoulders, O’Connell has fully leaned into passing. After a pair of games, the Vikings have 88 passing attempts against 26 rushing attempts.

Shouldn’t there be a corresponding emphasis on clean protection to ensure Cousins doesn’t finish his Sunday outings looking like one of the old Chevrolet sedans at the end of a monster truck rally?

Clearly, the Vikings have plenty of affection for their left tackle solution. Christian Darrisaw is legitimately one of the best in the business when he’s healthy. The issue simply rests in struggling to stay healthy. A trio of seasons in the NFL has featured time missed in all three seasons.

Questions Answered: One Injury Hiccup, 32nd-Ranked Defense, the Jets
Dec 20, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) and Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Christian Darrisaw. Mandatory Credit: Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports.

Would Minnesota turn to the 6’5″ Risner to be a short-term answer at left tackle? He has experience as a college tackle (albeit on the right side) and then experience playing along the left side of the line while in the NFL. Smashing those past assignments together may lead to a passable left tackle, if only for a few snaps in an emergency.

More likely, perhaps, is a full-time assignment at right guard. Ed Ingram may still develop into a quality player, but he hasn’t gotten there yet. Yes, the strip/sack on his own QB stands out, but the more troubling issue simply rests in the consistency with which he struggles to corral the pressure. Every single quarterback in the history of football wants to avoid pressure directly up the middle if at all possible. Substituting Risner for Ingram may help.

In a single season — 2022 — Ed Ingram allowed 11 sacks, 18 hits, and 58 pressures. In four seasons — 2019 to 2022 — Dalton Risner allowed 10 sacks, 22 hits, and 68 pressures. See the difference?

Risner finding success as an NFL RG is by no means a sure thing. He has much to prove in that regard, but one has to assume that the team will at least give the possibility serious consideration. Expecting Risner to slot into his more natural LG spot while kicking Ezra Cleveland over to RG — a position Cleveland played as a rookie — would be a misguided move. Why change a pair of positions when simply changing one is a possibility?

Nov 1, 2020; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (33) celebrates with offensive tackle Ezra Cleveland (72) after scoring a touchdown in the third quarter during the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The time to try a more bold configuration for the OL that involves shuffling many people around would have been the offseason. With the season fully underway, the Vikings would be wise to avoid getting too frisky with the OL shuffling. Putting things in a blender could backfire since continuity and familiarity with one’s blocking buddy really does matter (at least to a certain extent).

The Chargers game is a little less than a week away. Expect to see Risner on the sideline with shoulder pads on and helmet in hand. How much playing time he gets and where he gets that playing time is what everyone in Minnesota is looking to find out.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference and PFF 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.