Putting Together the O-Line Jigsaw Puzzle

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

In past seasons, fans have grown accustomed to Mike Zimmer shifting around his offensive linemen. Ezra Cleveland – a college LT – played RG and then LG. Oli Udoh – another college OT – got moved inside to right guard. Garrett Bradbury’s arrival pushed Pat Elflein to guard. There are plenty of examples, and I’m sure many readers can recall other instances from the Vikings’ o-line.

Kevin O’Connell has taken over as the team’s head coach. He has the benefit of being an offense-first HC, so perhaps his offensive line machinations will be more fruitful. As it stands, though, it looks like the first-time coach may be pursuing a similar strategy as his predecessor. Might we see a guard flexed into the center spot?

As recently discussed, the Vikings find themselves with an abundance of players along the interior of their o-line. Broadly speaking, we can break things down into two main categories: rookie-deal player and modestly-priced vets. The rookie deal contenders are Cleveland (RD2), Ed Ingram (RD2), and Wyatt Davis (RD3). They’ll need to fend off Jesse Davis and Chris Reed, veterans who were brought in to fill out the competition. The Davis contract, though far from massive, suggests he’s more than a backup.

Upon first glance, it appears that Minnesota has several pretty good options without any standouts. The hope, of course, is that this competition will help create standouts.

Ingram was chosen 59th overall, a surprising move for a variety of reasons. The fact that they chose him so highly suggests that they believe he can be a strong contributor sooner rather than later. Don’t forget that the Vikings had the 66th selection, so it’s not like they had to snag their guy now or else wait for dozens of picks. Instead, they only had a handful of picks to wait, and they still thought it was important to pick Ingram. It looks like a true competition between him and Cleveland at LG.

That leads to an important question: can this Vikings o-line really afford to keep a good player on the sideline? If, for instance, Ingram is the starter, can the Vikings really afford to keep Cleveland on the bench? Currently, the situation at center isn’t a good one. Will they try to put the puzzle together by sliding a guard into the center spot? A vet like J.C. Tretter still makes a lot of sense, but it’s anyone’s guess if that will materialize.

At tackle, the path forward seems clear. Christian Darrisaw and Brian O’Neill will lead the charge. Vederian Lowe, Blake Brandel, and Oli Udoh will compete for swing tackle duties. Lowe has the benefit of being a draft pick of the current leadership group, so he has a bit of an advantage. Brandel, though, shouldn’t be overlooked. At times, he came in during Minnesota’s heavy look as a 6th OL or (at times) as a TE.

It’s along the interior of the o-line where the Vikings may shuffle around the puzzle pieces. Given the current depth chart, it won’t be shocking to see Minnesota try Cleveland, Reed, or Wyatt Davis at center.