Youth on the line for Vikings

Patrick Brown (Grant Helverson/Getty)

While the Vikings want their offensive attack to go through Adrian Peterson, they will have to stay healthy on the offensive line. That wasn't the case last year, and their backups are all young this year.

The Vikings head into the 2011 season with Adrian Peterson expected to be the focal point of the offense. Just as a quarterback is only as good as his pass protection, in many cases, the same can be said about the running game.

It may be ironic that the Vikings are playing the Chargers Sunday in their 2011 season opener. In his rookie season in 2007, Peterson got his first chance to play San Diego and permanently stamped his name on the history of the NFL – setting the single-game rushing record of 296 yards that still stands.

At the time, Peterson was in his third game of a reconstituted offensive line. There were questions as to where the Vikings were heading, but when you had Bryant McKinnie, Steve Hutchinson and Matt Birk on the left side of the offensive line, you could afford to shuffle the deck if needed.

This time around, the Vikings have more than their share of questions. McKinnie is gone at left tackle after nine years on the job, replaced by Charlie Johnson. Hutchinson, center John Sullivan and guard Anthony Herrera are all coming off injuries. Right tackle Phil Loadholt leads the entire offensive line for the longest consecutive starting streak, and he only finished his second season.

However, when one looks across the offensive front, the job in front of new offensive line coach Jeff Davidson is not only to have his line live up to expectations (no small feat given the lack of stability among the starting five) is to develop a backup crew that can take their places in the event of injuries.

The crop they retained isn't high on experience (starting or otherwise). Davidson put his own stamp on the line by cutting Ryan Cook (who was signed by Miami Monday) and Chris DeGeare (who cleared waivers and was re-signed to the practice squad). They were part of the "old guard." He's got guys he wants to develop, including emergency starting center Jon Cooper, former practice squaders Seth Olsen and Patrick Brown, and rookies Brandon Fusco and DeMarcus Love.

The depth of the Vikings offensive line is very different than it has been in years past. Davidson made his recommendations for who to keep and who to cut – clearly finding more value in rookies Fusco and Love (drafted by the new regime) than Cook and DeGeare – prospects signed in the Brad Childress era.

As Vikings open the 2011 regular season with Peterson looking to come as close as he can to dominating the Chargers again, he will have new players in front of him plowing the way. Given the new look to the offensive line, Davidson will be on the spot to get everyone ready to produce, because, as it currently stands, there may be more lingering questions than answers as the season opener approaches.

WEDNESDAY NOTES

  • The retirement of Randy Moss remains on, but, a day after news reports claimed Moss would come back to the NFL only if it was with the Patriots, Tom Brady made it clear he is still friends with Moss and would "welcome him back with open arms."

  • The Vikings worked out former Packers CB Brandon Underwood, according to Scout.com's Aaron Wilson.

  • With the post-lockout CBA in place, a 46th roster spot on game days replaces the standard third QB slot. Thirteen teams, or 40 percent of the league, have taken advantage of the new rule by keeping just two QBs on the 53-man roster.

  • While criminal charges have yet to be filed, the family of the man killed in the hit-and-run accident involving a vehicle owned by former Viking Joe Senser has filed a wrongful death lawsuit in civil court against Senser and his wife.

  • The fickle world of NFL caponomics hit home Tuesday when the Jaguars cut David Garrard five days before the regular-season opener. Garrard was due more than $8 million if he was on the roster for the season opener, so it was as much a cap maneuver as it was a legitimate lack of trust in Garrard running the offense. Blaine Gabbert just got one big step closer to being the next rookie starter this year. All that stands between him and a starting job is Luke McCown.


    John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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