One concern the Vikings won’t have going into the draft, unlike last year, is the addition of an outstanding left tackle for the offensive line.
The drafting of Southern California tackle Matt Kalil filled that opening and the shift of Charlie Johnson from left tackle to left guard means that the five offensive line starters will return intact. Offensive line coach Jeff Davidson looks for the offensive line to be one of the strengths of the team.
On Kalil, Davidson said: “He was obviously productive enough that people found him worthy of being in the Pro Bowl. But we’ve always been more about the Super Bowl than we are the Pro Bowl. We’re hoping to get him to the next step, and he’s eager to get even better at his position than he is now.
“Quite honestly he’s about exactly what I thought [he would be as a player]. He’s a pretty good player, pretty good chalkboard to start with, if you will. He has a lot of the tools that you look for at the position, he’s a really good athlete, but he’s still learning. He’s learning how to be efficient with his movements and play more productive at the position. I think he’s looking to ascend.”
On Johnson’s shift from left tackle to left guard: “Charlie has done well. He’s one of our leaders. He’s the leader in the offseason program, and that’s all we can ask for him right now. He’s looking for better ways to be a better guard for us and that’s all we can ask for out of him. … In my opinion, that’s not to say that he can’t play left tackle in a pinch, but ultimately he was more productive for us at guard than he was at tackle.”
Davidson pointed out how the addition of Kalil and the Johnson shift set up the team for a great 2012 season, and for years to come.
“We’re going into this year with really all five guys returning, which is a good thing,” Davidson said. “Like you talk about, to have those guys together is important. You’re always pushing to have five guys playing as one, and the best way to do that is to get guys where you don’t always have to get that communication out to be able to play well together.
“We’re always looking for depth, and like I said, we’re looking for competition, too. The starters are the starters that we have, but we’re always looking for people to push them.”
High on Sullivan
On reviewing the performance of the remaining three starters on the offensive line last year, Davidson said center John Sullivan makes his job easy because he’s easy to coach, smart as a whip and understands what the Vikings are trying to get done.
“Right now with him, we’re down to honing in on details of his position at this point,” Davidson said. “In my opinion, I have been around a lot of good ones and he does things well and he’s looking for ways to do it better. That’s what you’re looking for in an offensive lineman.
“One of Sullivan’s strengths is that he helps everybody get on the same page, and like I said, he’s smart and he communicates well with the guys playing around him. And when I say guys playing around him, the whole offense listens to him.”
Davidson also praised Brandon Fusco, the sixth-round draft pick out of Slippery Rock who started all 16 games at right guard last season: “He’s done well. I think he’s got all the want-to in the world, and the guy works every day to try to get better at his craft. It’s my job to make him better.”
Offensive right tackle Phil Loadholt, who made Davidson happy when he re-signed as a free agent rather than accept another offer, completes the front five.
“Phil did well for us last year,” Davidson said. “Hopefully he’s going to get a healthy knee here, too. We’re looking forward to working with him this offseason.”
Davidson added that it’s Loadholt’s size that sets him apart. “We like our offensive linemen smart and tough, and he has that, too, but he’s a big man (6-8, 343 pounds). He’s very difficult to get around. He tries to do things exactly the way that we coach him.”
Davidson said he’s happy to open the season with a line that played a full year together: “Well, I’d say that we’re starting better [than last season], but don’t confuse that with being a finished product. We know we have a lot of work ahead of us.”