The Line boys from Oxford, Mich., don’t need a calendar to identify the season.
“You know when it’s football season when we get together for a family photo and we all have the same gash on the bridge of our nose,” said Zach Line, the Vikings’ 6-1, 233-pound fullback. “It doesn’t matter what helmet we wear. That skin is so weak by now.”
Zach is in his third season with the Vikings. Prescott Line is a 6-foot, 237-pound junior running back at Southern Methodist. Ben Line is a 6-2, 245-pound sophomore H-back at Robert Morris. Each was born with bodies built for blocking, bloody noses and bloodying other people’s noses.
Against Kansas City, the opening kickoff is what opened up Zach’s wound. Sunday at Detroit, Line was sitting at his locker after a 28-19 victory with yet another fresh cut to deal with.
“Every game, pretty much,” he said.
Line was smiling. He knows his role. It’s definitely not glamorous. But it’s one of many pieces in the overall team puzzle that Vikings coach Mike Zimmer and General Manager Rick Spielman are building.
“Zach is a guy like that, that is very unselfish,” Zimmer said. “He’s not going to get the football very much, and he has to go in there and billy-goat a bunch of linebackers. That’s part of his job assignment.”
Line is looking more comfortable as a first-year starter in that role. On the Vikings’ first possession Sunday, he squared up and delivered a well-balanced pop to the chest of veteran middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch. That enabled Adrian Peterson to run 12 yards into field goal range.
Later, Line spent a rare moment in the spotlight when he caught a short pass and turned it into a 49-yard gain that set up the Vikings’ first touchdown. Line started the play split wide left, motioned into the backfield and then slipped free into the left flat.
Naturally, no one was paying any attention to what Line was doing. Including the Lions defense.
“That’s good play-action for us, and it’s worked a couple times,” Line said. “But that’s definitely the most I’ve been open on that play.”
We in the media and fans probably spend too much time fixating on who will be on the field for the first snap of the game. Yes, it’s important that a Stefon Diggs has moved his way up to starter. But that doesn’t mean Charles Johnson can’t contribute a 21-yard catch on third-and-9, as he did at Detroit.
MyCole Pruitt is a third-string tight end. But that doesn’t mean he can’t seal the edge on Peterson’ 75-yard run or have his first NFL catch be a 13-yard bull run for the first-down marker on third-and-12.
The Vikings are 2-0 since they traded starting middle linebacker Gerald Hodges. Rookie Eric Kendricks has stepped in with 19 tackles, three sacks and four tackles for loss in two games as a three-down playmaker.
The Vikings had to play the Chiefs without sack leader Everson Griffen, a last-minute scratch because of an illness. Rookie Danielle Hunter stepped in with half a sack and solid play overall in his NFL starting debut.
Against Detroit, the Vikings were without defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, who was injured during a standout game against the Chiefs. No problem. Tom Johnson, the veteran inside nickel pass rusher, stepped in as a starter and had a sack while playing well in a season-high 44 snaps.
Whether it’s Jerick McKinnon averaging 4 yards on a season-high nine carries, 11 different players catching at least one pass, forgotten linebacker Audie Cole blasting the fullback during a successful goal-line stand or Kyle Rudolph making several key blocks that frustrate the fantasy leaguers, Zimmer said he’s happy with how well his players are buying into a team mentality.
“It’s really what I’m trying to get our team to understand,” Zimmer said. “The focus may not be on you today, but who cares? Let’s just go play together, let’s go win, let’s everybody do a good job. … Good things happen when teams have success, good things will happen to individuals when that happens.”
Warning. Some noses could be bloodied in the process.
Line looked around the room to point out that he’s not the only player growing a perpetual scab on his nose. Tight end Rhett Ellison walked by sporting one himself.
“See, he’s a bulldog, he’s a blocker,” Line said. “It’s a sign of pride. It means you’re doing your job.”