Sid Hartman: Offensive line is big key to improvement of Vikings

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 26, 2007 - 10:53 PM

The Vikings have been known for having strong blockers over the years, but this group needs to get better if the team is going to succeed.

When he was coach of the Vikings, Dennis Green called the offensive line the strength of his team.

For a good share of Green's tenure, that line was made up of Jeff Christy at center, Korey Stringer and Todd Steussie at tackle and Randall McDaniel and David Dixon at guard. It was one of the best offensive lines in franchise history.

The big question now is how good is the current offensive line and how much blame should it share for the failure of the offense to score more than three touchdowns in the first three games.

The success of the Vikings is going depend as much on the improvement of the offensive line as on any other part of the team.

Offensive line coach Pat Morris said talented offensive lines are so important because defenses are so advanced with the variety of blitzes and multiple fronts being employed.

"There's more defensive fronts that they have to prepare for each different week," Morris said. "Some teams run 3-4, some teams will do 4-3, the Tampa-2s and all the blitzes and things go with it, things change every week.

"Well I think it boils down to your experience kind of helps you out because the longer you're in the game the more you see some of the things. There's new stuff all the time, I think you need guys who are smart up front that will study and look at the stuff and some things they have to block on the run."

Morris said one advantage for offensive linemen is that the rulemakers have allowed them the freedom to use their hands.

"I think the defensive line people want to be able to get pressure with four-man rush, and if they can't do that they're going to put some pressure on you and blitz you," Morris said. "Protecting the quarterback goes along with the quarterback getting it out quick and the receivers getting open so the ball can be thrown on time."

One reason the Packers are 3-0 is that Brett Favre has had great protection from his offensive line, success with his quick-rhythm passes and the receivers have been getting open. The Packers have passed 70 percent of the time.

For the Vikings to upset Green Bay on Sunday, they must find a way to score more, and one way to do that is to to emulate the Packers. They need to improve their protection, and the receivers and quarterback have to perform much better than in the first three games.

Jottings

Vikings owner Zygi Wilf still is upset with former owner Red McCombs for trading Randy Moss to the Raiders. Wilf said he would have never approved the trade of Moss, who was a big attraction at the gate as well being an outstanding player. The trade was made March 2, 2005, and the Wilfs purchased the team on May 25.

Glen Taylor, owner of the Wolves, said that the Kevin Garnett trade might have never developed had Garnett not come to Kevin McHale last spring and asked for a three-year contract extension. But Garnett, who was being paid $22 million a season, refused the suggestion of Taylor that KG take a cut in salary, so the decision was made to make the trade. Taylor said that the Chicago Bulls were interested in Garnett but not at the salary he demanded.

Taylor also revealed that he wanted to replace Dwane Casey as coach earlier than he did, but that Randy Wittman turned him down as a replacement the first time before deciding to accept the challenge on Jan. 24. And Wittman said he wasn't going to sign a multiyear contract as the permanent coach unless he was made some promises about improving the roster and keeping salaries competitive.

Jimmy Williams, the fomer Gophers assistant, is working with former NBA player and coach John Lucas to try to improve the play of a number of players, including Gerald Green, who came to the Wolves in the Garnett trade.

"He has tremendous upside," Williams said. "He's a terrific shooter. He's one of the best athletes in the NBA. He won the dunk contest his rookie year."

Williams did, however, add that Green does have to work some on his defense.

The Packers game is not only a complete sellout, but scalpers are also asking record prices for tickets. However, tickets still remain for every other remaining home game.

At a meeting today, the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission is expected to discuss a study that was made about the possible renovation of the Metrodome so that it could be financially feasible for the Vikings to play there.

Tim Brewster was asked to compare current Texas coach Mack Brown's first year as head coach at North Carolina with Brewster's first year at Minnesota. Brewster was an assistant coach there.

"It's similar to North Carolina. At North Carolina. Mac Brown went 2-20 his first two years there, and then we just kept recruiting; we kept working," Brewster said. "This program's not that bad off. This program's in better shape than the program was at North Carolina. What we've got to do here is we've just got to continue to recruit like crazy. Like I told you I couldn't be more excited about the response we're getting in recruiting. It's been amazing."

In going 1-3 in the first four games, the Gophers have scored a total of 31 points in the first half and 91 in the second half. They have gained 690 yards in the first half and 1,176 yards in the second half.

Brewster said he doesn't believe in deciding whether players will be redshirted until at least the middle of the season, but two players likely will be redshirted. "Shane Potter and Anthony Jacobs are two young guys that we think have potential without question, and at this particular point they look like they're going to redshirt," Brewster said. "Anthony Jacobs has a broken thumb right now, he's coming back from that. Shane Potter is doing a nice job, he hurt his knee as a [high school] senior, and I think he's still trying to work towards being 100 percent, but at some point next season hopefully both those guys will help us win."

Several former Gophers baseball players are taking part in major league fall instructional leagues. Shortstop Dan Lyons is with Washington, pitcher Reid Mahon with Arizona, pitcher Cole DeVries with the Twins and pitcher Craig Molldrem with Florida.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Podcast twice a week at www.startribune.com. He is at shartman@startribune.com.

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