Vikings: O-line is 'OK,' but it isn't satisfied

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 28, 2007 - 9:57 PM

Offensive line play hasn't really been a problem for the Vikings, and the team doesn't have any changes planned for the unit.

Playing offensive line is unlike playing any other position in football. At any other position, except maybe defensive back, a player can have 58 bad plays, two good plays and be the hero.

"Then there's the offensive lineman," Vikings center Matt Birk said. "Talk to any one of us who played 60 snaps. We could have 58 really good plays, but there's those two bad plays that stand out, that eat at us. That's why, no matter what, I never sleep on Sunday nights. Those one or two plays keep me up."

The Vikings are 1-2 heading into Sunday's game against the Packers. They rank 26th in total offense and 25th in scoring, which means nobody on that side of the ball was particularly perky at Winter Park this week.

The offensive line was hard on itself, although only two of the five sacks surrendered at Kansas City were attributed to breakdowns on the offensive line: Both of Tamba Hali's sacks were attributed to right tackle Ryan Cook.

"How are we doing?" Birk asked before taking a long pause. "OK."

Vikings offensive line coach Pat Morris was asked the same thing.

"Overall?" he asked. "I would say ... [long pause] ... OK."

Whether the Vikings win or lose this week, there appear to be no major changes planned for the offensive line during next week's bye.

Left tackle Bryant McKinnie, left guard Steve Hutchinson and Birk control their positions. Right guard essentially remains a competition between Artis Hicks, who started and played 45 snaps last week, and Anthony Herrera, who played 18 snaps in two stints, including one when Hicks injured a finger.

And then there's right tackle. Cook, the former center who had never played tackle in his life until reaching the NFL as a second-round draft pick last season, continues to hold off backup Marcus Johnson. The only other linemen on the 53-man roster is tackle Chase Johnson, an undrafted rookie and long-term project.

"Right now, we feel the best route to take is to keep Ryan out there and let him work through it," Morris said. "Now, if he goes out this week and gives up seven sacks, then it's a different story."

Morris was asked if there are any other options available at right tackle. A street free agent the team has its eye on, perhaps.

"If there's someone out there, there's a reason he's out there: He probably isn't that good," Morris said. "Sure, you'd like to add a couple of Pro Bowl guys. But these are the six guys [including Herrera] we have. We have to make it work with them."

Many problems arise in trying to evaluate offensive line play. NFL observers often don't understand the position. And even the experts who once played it themselves generally aren't privy to the team's protection schemes or, in some cases, the communication breakdowns that often occur on the road.

For instance, with time running out in the first half at Kansas City, quarterback Kelly Holcomb originally called for the ball to be spiked to stop the clock. He quickly changed the call, realizing it was third down. But with Arrowhead Stadium roaring, left tackle Bryant McKinnie didn't hear Holcomb change the call. Holcomb was sacked by McKinnie's man, Jared Allen.

"The great thing about playing offensive line is most people don't have a clue about it," Birk said. "If the quarterback doesn't get sacked, everybody goes, 'Ah, the offensive line played well.' Well, maybe not."

The Vikings have given up seven sacks this season. Four have been attributed to the offensive line, one to miscommunication and two on the quarterback for holding the ball too long. Eleven teams have given up more sacks than the Vikings.

The Vikings also rank 10th in rushing and have had a 100-yard rusher in two of three games. They rank 11th in average per carry (4.3).

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