Detroit Lions, NFC North positional previews: Offensive Line
Key returning players: Riley Reiff, Pat Elflein, Brian O’Neill, Rashod Hill, Danny Isidora, Brett Jones
New additions: Josh Kline, Garrett Bradbury (R), Dru Samia (R), Oli Udoh (R)
Key losses: Mike Remmers, Tom Compton
The Minnesota Vikings suffered a difficult loss in 2018 before they even played a regular season game. Offensive line coach Tony Sparano died tragically of heart disease last July, after coaching in the NFL for nearly 20 years. It was a devastating loss for the entire team, and the Vikings’ offensive line struggled to gain any traction or cohesion last year in the wake of their leader’s death.
In terms of personnel, the offensive line remains a work in progress, with the most question marks in the division. In recognizing as much, general manager Rick Spielman spent three draft picks on offensive linemen in April, including their first rounder. The Vikings will likely need at least one of them to play a major role in 2019 for the offense to run more effectively.
That first rounder is Garrett Bradbury, who was a standout at center for North Carolina State, and one of the highest regarded interior linemen in this year’s draft. Bradbury has all the traits that one looks for in a center; strength, athleticism, leadership and versatility. He is a likely candidate to step in at pivot from day one.
Should that occur, incumbent Pat Elflein will likely be bumped to guard after two rough seasons as the starting center; underperforming veterans Tom Compton and Mike Remmers were not retained after a rough 2018 for both as the starting guards.
Elflein will have competition there as well, as the Vikings brought in the experienced Josh Kline from the Tennessee Titans, as well as drafting raw-but-talented Dru Samia in the fourth round. Canadian import Brett Jones likely won’t challenge for starter snaps anywhere, but is a valuable backup. Danny Isidora will be fighting to save his Vikings career after two poor seasons. It’s wide open in the middle aside from Bradbury, which likely isn’t a positive sign.
At tackle, former Lion Riley Reiff returns for year three of a five-year $58.75 million deal that could become problematic if he again doesn’t live up to expectations. He is an average left tackle, but is paid like a star. He isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and needs to remain healthy and be more productive; he missed three games in 2018.
Brian O’Neill is again the likely choice at right tackle after a promising rookie season. It will be interesting to see what weight he checks in at when Vikings training camp full-team practices begin on July 26th. He played last season at less than 300 pounds; not sustainable for a starting tackle, particularly one that is 6-foot-7. Rashod Hill and rookie Oli Udoh will compete for the swing tackle job.
Ideally for the Vikings, they would settle on a solid starting five well before Week One. They’ll need to be able to clear running lanes for tailback Dalvin Cook and prevent quarterback Kirk Cousins from having to run for his life again, which led to costly turnovers in 2018. This Vikings regime’s future could depend on it.