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Zimmer wants to pick offensive line starters 'as soon as possible'

Once Vikings players finally don pads on Sunday, the clock starts ticking down from six weeks until the season opener in Tennessee.

Only then, following two days in helmets and shorts, will the competition begin in earnest. And there may not be a more intriguing race this summer than the one set to spark on the offensive line.

Five starters — Matt Kalil, Alex Boone, John Sullivan, Brandon Fusco and Andre Smith — took their posts during the first walk-through on Friday. Less than two hours into training camp, Zimmer was asked if that’s the starting lineup.

“Five guys we had will probably change, number one,” Zimmer said. “And number two, I’ve talked to you about having competition this whole time and I’m not going to give you five guys after a walk-through. We still have a lot of time to figure it out. And until we get into pads, I’m not going to make any decisions on anything.”

The preseason balancing act of deciding a starting five pits internal competition against seeking a set group to establish continuity. Snaps are up for grabs especially at right  guard and right tackle, though the competition has been thinned early.

Phil Loadholt’s retirement this week widened the lane at right tackle for Andre Smith, who signed a one-year, $3.5 million contract in free agency. T.J. Clemmings worked as the second-team right tackle on Friday.

Last year’s starting right guard, Mike Harris, began camp on the non-football illness list with what he described as a head ailment. Harris figured to be Brandon Fusco’s top competition at right guard.

Questions linger around center John Sullivan’s health as he’ll suit up this weekend for the first time since last August. Sullivan, 30, underwent two back surgeries last year to repair a herniated disc. He’s currently backed up by 34-year-old Joe Berger, who started every game for Sullivan last season and played well.

Now establishing a starting five will be one of the coaching staff’s most critical decisions this preseason.

“As soon as possible,” Zimmer said. “It may be this week, it may be next week. I don’t know. It’s really about when we’ve made the decision that this is how we want it to go. We still have some combinations we want to look at. That is not the set lineup by any chance or stretch of the imagination. But yes, to answer your question, as soon as possible.”

Four Vikings players not cleared to practice at start of training camp

Four Vikings players have not been cleared to practice at the onset of training camp.

Tight end Rhett Ellison and nose tackle Kenrick Ellis were placed on the preseason Physically Unable to Perform list on Friday, head coach Mike Zimmer announced.

Ellison continues to rehab from torn patellar tendon in his knee suffered during the Vikings’ Jan. 3 win in Green Bay. Ellis’ injury was not disclosed. They’re both allowed to attend team meetings and practices, but have to be removed from the PUP list once they participate, per NFL rules.

Guard Mike Harris was placed on the non-football illness list and third-string quarterback Taylor Heinicke on the non-football injury list, the team announced. Harris, who started all 17 games at right guard last season, said Thursday he’s been held back because of a head ailment. Zimmer called Harris’ situation a “medical issue.”

Heinicke is expected to miss at least two months, a source said, because of a severed tendon in his left ankle. He underwent surgery earlier this month and reported to camp in Mankato with a cast on his left leg.

How did Zimmer take the news of his backup quarterback being sidelined by kicking in the glass pane of a door?

“Darn it. Something like that,” Zimmer said.

All four players still count against the Vikings’ 90-man roster limit during the preseason.

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