The horn sounded and the 10th period of Tuesday’s practice began with the left side of the Vikings offensive line somewhere other than in the first-team huddle.
Left tackle Riley Reiff was back in full uniform, but was on another field pushing a wooden sled under the direction of an athletic trainer. He is being worked back into team drills slowly, and this was one of the periods he sat out to work on strengthening his back and endurance.
Meanwhile, left guard Alex Boone was inside the Winter Park facility with his left knee wrapped. He was seen moving without a limp and doesn’t appear to be seriously hurt, but he has missed back-to-back practices.
Coach Mike Zimmer has made a couple of references this summer to hoping this isn’t a “here we go again” situation. And, yes, it’s still early and the Vikings probably are being overly cautious. But, man oh man, is this a “here we go again” situation?
“No,” said offensive lineman Nick Easton.
A man of fewer than few words, Nick was asked to elaborate.
“It’s a different year,” Easton said. “I don’t think about last year.”
That’s probably a good thing if you’re a Vikings offensive lineman. A year ago, the team needed 12 of them overall and five at left tackle to get through 16 games.
The offense ranked 28th overall and last in rushing. Then it opened the 2017 preseason with a backup left tackle (Rashod Hill) and 13 first-team reps that mustered 24 net yards, two sacks, two three-and-outs and one first down in three possessions at Buffalo.
“I’d like seeing them do better,” Zimmer said. “I feel like we have got to develop a rhythm here a little bit and get going from there.”
But how is that possible when the offensive line has been a makeshift unit since the start of camp? And now it’s possible that Reiff could return for Friday night’s game at Seattle just as Boone sits out.
Tuesday, the Vikings got a look at Easton at left guard. He insists he is comfortable there even though the third-year pro entered the NFL as an undrafted center from Harvard and bounced from Baltimore to San Francisco to the Vikings before starting five games at that position a year ago.
Until Tuesday, Easton spent training camp holding a narrow edge on rookie Pat Elflein at center. Elflein also got a look at left guard with the first unit in Sunday’s practice.
T.J. Clemmings is left guard on the second team.
At this point, one has to wonder if the starting five will get any game time together before the Sept. 11 regular-season opener against the Saints. That’s something Zimmer has to consider as he looks around at a league that lost several key players to injuries during the first week of preseason games.
“I’m honestly really weighing that a lot,” Zimmer said. “I happened to have the game on in the background [this weekend] and I saw two defensive starters go out for the season. And I saw one team had five guys injured.”
So far, Easton has managed to stay healthy since stepping into the starting lineup late last season. He was asked, jokingly, if that has anything to do with this line in his Wikipedia entry: “Nearly all of Easton’s athletic success can be attributed to the mental toughness he was forced to develop after being dominated for many years in driveway basketball by elder brother, Jon Easton.”
“Ha! That’s a little inside joke between us,” Easton said. “He went in there and edited that in. My comeback is, ‘At least I have a Wikipedia.’ ”
So what’s the story?
“We used to play basketball in the driveway,” he said. “I was a short, little, stubby kid. He would swat every shot I put up. A little adversity, I guess.”
A lot of contact? Make you more durable?
That would be a welcome change of pace for a Vikings offensive lineman.