Changing of the Guards

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Well, the Vikings just gave new meaning to their offensive line’s moniker of “Moving Company.” The team announced today that they have released guard Brandon Fusco and guard/tackle Mike Harris. These two players are the last two players to start at right guard the past two seasons, so to say the hole there now is gaping would be an understatement.

The play of Fusco, the six-year guard from Slippery Rock, had “slipped” this past season. He was coming off of a torn pectoral muscle that caused him to miss most of the 2014 season, was moved to left guard in 2015, where he struggled. He went back to right guard in 2016 and never really regained his early form. Add in a couple concussions this past campaign and things really went south for Fusco in 2016.

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We all have memories of him getting torched from time-to-time on the right side of the line, and it was a strange sight to see after he played so well in 2012, the year Adrian Peterson led the league in rushing and nearly broke the season rushing record. Fusco had worked his way into the starting lineup that season and looked to be an anchor for the future. But whether it was due to injury or something else, the Vikings have moved on from him and now have to be scrambling to fill that spot this offseason.

That player could have been Harris, who played right guard in 2015 when Fusco switched to left guard. And Harris, a former tackle, filled in quite well there and looked to challenge Fusco last season. But Harris showed up at training camp with an undisclosed illness and never played a down all season. There were plenty of rumblings that the affliction, which we still don’t know the nature of, could wind up ending Harris’ career, just five seasons after it began. It will be very interesting to see if he gets picked up somewhere, but my sense is that if the Vikings, who liked him, couldn’t get him back on the field, no other team will take a shot.

So, where does that leave Minnesota? Currently with a pretty bare cupboard in depth at the offensive guard position. The remaining guards on the roster include Alex Boone at left guard, Jeremiah Sirles as a guard/tackle, Mr. Versatile Joe Berger and Zac Kerin. That means Boone is your starting left guard, Berger moves over to right guard and Nick Easton should be the starting center. Sirles and T.J. Clemmings at right tackle and, right now, Rashod Hill or Willie Beavers at left tackle. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! If we were concerned about the offensive line before the season ended, it may be time to head into panic mode.

What does become clear now is how hard the Vikings will have to hit free agency to shore up their offensive line. The initial need was a left tackle, as Matt Kalil is a free agent (his agent is smiling right now), but now right guard is on the outside and move up fast when it comes to crucial spots to fill. What depth the team had is gone, and there currently is no front line player stepping into the position.

Being a bit more conservative than this, I always wished that the Vikings would solidify their line before cutting players loose. The lack of players on the offensive line right will make them desperate and could hurt any leverage they had in bargaining with free agents or trading with teams. And now we know what the 2017 Vikings draft is going to look like: offensive lineman, offensive lineman, offensive lineman and running back in their first four picks. Wake me up when we hit day three of the draft.

Regardless, this is where the team is at right now. What currently seems like a bold move hopefully isn’t a rash one. Stay tuned.

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