Hartman: Look for Vikings offensive line to improve

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 9, 2012 - 9:37 PM
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Vikings offensive linemen Matt Kalil, left, and Charlie Johnson last month at Winter Park.

Photo: Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

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You analyze the Vikings' 3-13 record last year, and a part of the reason for the poor play was an offensive line that was riddled by injuries to center John Sullivan, Steve Hutchinson and Anthony Herrera. ¶ Now with offensive line coach Jeff Davidson in his second year at the position, there is good reason to believe that the line will be solid this year and will do a much better job protecting quarterback Christian Ponder.

The presence of the team's No. 1 draft choice, offensive tackle Matt Kalil of Southern California, is one reason for being optimistic about the performance of the offensive line, and his presence makes it possible to move Charlie Johnson from left tackle, where he played last year, to guard, his natural position.

I mentioned to Davidson that Tom Moore, longtime offensive coordinator for the Colts when Johnson was playing guard, offered the opinion that Johnson was a good tackle but an outstanding guard.

"Tom Moore was a lot smarter than I am, but I happen to agree with him in this case," said Davidson about Moore's comments. "I just think the compactness that he plays with, that he's got quickness, he's a fairly compact player. I just think those attributes apply more to a guard than to a tackle. I like the fact that the tackle that we have here now has a little bit more of a wingspan."

Davidson, who is ranked among the top offensive line coaches in the NFL, said this about Kalil: "The big thing is he does have a natural ability to him, that is wingspan and athletic ability, and that's hard to coach. I think that part would be difficult even for me to mess up. We haven't had pads on yet, but he's everything that I've expected so far. He's got real ability.

"You never have to put a boot up his butt, if you will. He's a self-starter. He wants information, he wants to learn more. I like the direction that he's heading."

Then there is Sullivan, another in the list of great Vikings centers, who General Manager Rick Spielman ranks with the best in the NFL.

"I like Sully, yes. The thing I like about him is that even though I'd say he's improved over a year, he's trying to improve from that point," Davidson said. "It doesn't feel like we had to regress at all. I think he's starting where he was and picking it up and still moving on from there."

And Davidson agrees with Spielman's judgement about Sullivan.

Vikings coaches are looking for a much improved performance at right tackle from 2009 second-round draft choice Phil Loadholt, who is in his third year.

And the big surprise starter at right guard might be Brandon Fusco of Slippery Rock, a sixth-round pick last year who stood out when given a chance to play last season and has really impressed this spring in the workouts.

Asked to appraise the offensive line and how they have worked this spring, Davidson said: "I'd say that we're starting to come together. I think some of the basics that we're working through and the fundamentals are starting to fall into place."

If you want my opinion, there is no comparison in the offensive line the Vikings will put on the field this year compared to last year. And that is one reason that Ponder will have a much better season than he had last year.

Never gave up

The suggestion that was made that the Twins should give up on the season and start trading away players who have any value for future prospects didn't meet with approval from Twins General Manager Terry Ryan.

Ryan has contended all along that once the pitching staff started being effective, the Twins would score enough runs to win a lot of games.

Well, the pitching all of a sudden has been effective and the Twins have won four consecutive series, sweeping the A's, taking two out of three from Cleveland and Kansas City and winning the first two from the Cubs.

During this great 9-2 stretch the Twins have received good pitching from their starters and great pitching from the bullpen. In 11 games the starters have allowed 29 runs over 591/3 innings for a 4.42 ERA while the relievers have been dominant, with six runs allowed over 382/3 innings for a 1.41 ERA.

And they won the Cleveland and Kansas City series without Joe Mauer.

After beating the Cubs on Saturday, the Twins are 9 1/2 games out of first place.

Despite a horrendous start to the season there are still 105 games remaining, and 53 of those are against division foes. The Twins still can get in the race, and in September they play 23 of 26 games against division foes and will have a chance to move up. They finish the season with three games at Toronto in October.

SID'S JOTTINGS

Gophers baseball coaches were surprised that the Twins passed on pitcher TJ Oakes, son of U pitching coach Todd Oakes. TJ "will one day pitch in the major leagues," said Gophers coach John Anderson about the righthander, who was named to the 2012 All-Big Ten team and compiled a 16-11 record over the three years he pitched. Oakes lasted until the 11th round, when Colorado selected him. Oakes definitely will pass up his senior year and sign with Colorado for around $100,000.

Vikings offensive line coach Jeff Davidson and his father, Jim, were the first father-son duo to be captains of the Ohio State football team. Davidson's dad was captain in 1964 and the current Vikings offensive line coach was captain in 1989.

• The Vikings refused to reveal any information about their season-ticket sales, but despite a 3-13 season last year, it's reported that the news of a new stadium being built has increased demand.

Robbinsdale Cooper star Rashad Vaughn is playing for the Net Gain Sports AAU team this summer, and it recently took second place in the Under Armour Classic in Dallas. Over six games Vaughn, a 6-5, 180-pound shooting guard, averaged 18.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists. Vaughn, who is a top-50 player in the 2014 class, recently got another scholarship offer, this one from the Colorado Buffaloes.

Former Minnetonka High School star Jake Gardiner was the top-scoring defenseman in the AHL playoffs with two goals and nine assists in 17 games for the Toronto Marlies, who were swept by Norfolk 4-0 in the Calder Cup finals. Gardiner finished with seven goals and 23 assists in 75 games for the Maple Leafs before being sent down to the AHL after the Maple Leafs finished their season.

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