The Vikings have a recent history blemished by forcing offensive linemen to play out of their natural position. They brought a lot of players to the lowest points of their careers, from moving Charlie Johnson from tackle to guard, Brandon Fusco from right guard to left guard, and even transitioning TJ Clemmings to football player.
The latest iteration has moved Mike Remmers, a career right tackle, to right guard. This experiment first started out of necessity – Nick Easton went down late in the 2017 season, and some shuffling had to be done. But with an entire offseason to think about it, Mike Remmers stayed at guard, even when the team thought they were getting Easton back.
Through the first 8 weeks of 2017 #Vikings RT Mike Remmers had a grade of 77.1 (12th among OTs) and hadn’t given up a sack. Since returning from injury he’s graded under 60 in 5 of his 7 starts at RG. Not only is OT the more valuable position, Remmers is better there.
— Kevin Ringrose (@PFF_KevinR) October 2, 2018
Decisions made at the end of last year notwithstanding, it’s clear that Mike Remmers is most comfortable on the outside. For one, that’s where the majority of his experience is – he’s played 40 of his 60 NFL games there so far in his career. In those games, he averaged 2.2 pressures allowed per game (including a couple of catastrophic playoff outliers that may not represent a typical Remmers outing). In the other 20, he’s averaged almost 4 pressures allowed. A lot of this stems from a shaky 2016 season at left tackle in Carolina, where he played relief duty for most of the year.
Most recently, Remmers has put up the 2nd and 3rd worst games of his career against Los Angeles and Buffalo. The worst was memorably the Super Bowl 50 performance that earned Von Miller a Super Bowl MVP.
Statistically, we have a reasonably large sample that can tell us that it’s probably best to move Mike Remmers back. But what causes this drop off? It’s important to consider the perspectives of people who have actually played on the field, namely, how they’ve swapped positions.
For one, defensive tackles line up physically closer to you. As a tackle, you can back up and give yourself a little extra time to get set before the pass rusher is engaging with you. Sometimes, edge rushers will rush wider, giving you even more time.
“Guys are bigger and have more bull rushes,” said former Michigan lineman Stephen Schilling. When you move to guard, a player is going to be bigger and pushing on you right away. They may not have as much space to work with, but they’re much more powerful.
Take, for example, the first step. Tackles will often “kick step” – that is, a long, backward step that’s designed to help them move more quickly, and keep up with speedy edge rushers. Here’s a youth coach drilling that concept:
Guards, on the other hand, focus on getting their feet set immediately, then hanging back to see what sort of pass rush they’re dealing with. It’s an entirely different game. Swapping from left to right makes it even worse.
The transition is understandably difficult. The Vikings may feel that they don’t have any other options at right guard, but that’s simply untrue. Both Tom Compton and Brett Jones have shown similar pressure rates when asked to play on the interior. On top of that, current right tackle Rashod Hill is banged up and struggling, ranking 51st among all tackles in pass blocking efficiency.
By moving Mike Remmers back to his original, more comfortable position, they can essentially upgrade at right tackle and allow other, more natural guards already on their roster to thrive in his place. Kirk Cousins has been under pressure the 4th most often in the NFL, and Kirk Cousins is a well-documented roulette spin under pressure.
Solving for that variance can help the offense keep up its gaudy pace and hide some of the issues present elsewhere on the team. It comes with no cost in cap space or draft capital. It would be a move designed to get players back to where they’re comfortable, so the 1-2-1 Vikings can get back to playing good football.
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