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Zimmer hopes line can avoid repeat of last year's 'Titanic' crash

For a second consecutive offseason, the Vikings made the offensive line a focal point of renovations.

And once again, head coach Mike Zimmer said at this point he feels comfortable with his personnel.

“Yeah, but I mean last year I thought we were in pretty good shape, too,” Zimmer said Monday. “Then we hit, you know, the Titanic crashed.”

By now, you know the story. Except this iceberg that helped sink the Vikings’ 2016 season was made of Matt Kalil’s torn hip labrum, Jake Long’s torn Achilles, John Sullivan’s bad back, Mike Harris’ career-threatening ailment, Phil Loadholt’s retirement and Andre Smith’s injured triceps.

A year later, the Vikings expect to finally debut the full starting offensive line during Sunday’s “dress rehearsal” of a preseason game against the 49ers at U.S. Bank Stadium. Left tackle Riley Reiff, the $56 million offseason addition, is expected to debut Sunday after a back injury has limited him throughout August.

The Vikings’ interior offensive line depth has looked improved with the emergence of center/guard Nick Easton and the selection of rookie Pat Elflein in the third round. Tackle is a different story. The Vikings ponied up to sign two starters, Reiff and Mike Remmers, in free agency, but kept the status quo behind them.

When asked about tackle depth in training camp, Zimmer said a lot with a few words when noting they “need to stay healthy” at those spots.

If not, the tackle they’ll currently turn to is Rashod Hill, the second-year undrafted man out of Southern Miss. With Reiff back in the fold, Hill has been taking snaps at right tackle during practices to seemingly prepare as the Vikings’ swing tackle this season.

“I think the biggest thing with Rashod is, if he continues to be good with his sets and his hand placement, he’s a pretty tough guy to pass rush against,” Zimmer said. “So he’s improved with his technique everyday. He’s improved with his mental errors everyday. So that’s been the process. He’s still got to, you know, keep cleaning things up to where he needs to be.”

Vikings quarterback situation taking shape, but who will be No. 3?

Minnesota Vikings quarterbacks Case Keenum (7) and Taylor Heinicke (6) throw passes during NFL football practice, Tuesday, June 13, 2017, in Eden Prairie, Minn. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King)

After two games of the Vikings’ preseason schedule, it seems as though their pecking order at quarterback is relatively clear. Sam Bradford and Case Keenum are set to be the No. 1 and No. 2 quarterbacks, respectively, with Taylor Heinicke trying to fight for a roster spot after a difficult start to the preseason and Mitch Leidner a new addition to the roster.

(Teddy Bridgewater, it should be noted, is regularly doing rehab work without a brace on his left knee, but still hasn’t participated in a full practice. So as we approach the anniversary of Bridgewater’s knee injury, there is still much to be learned about where his rehab will go.)

If we assume Bradford and Keenum are locks to be on the roster, then, the major question about the Vikings’ QB situation would be whether the team keeps two or three healthy quarterbacks on the active roster. And while offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said that decision remains above his pay grade, he made it clear on Monday that the Vikings need to remain proactive with their quarterback plan.

“I think it’s extremely important that you’re always developing quarterbacks,” he said. “You just never know how it’s all going to play out, so you just want to keep developing the quarterback position throughout the season, and especially during training camp, so that if for some reason you need a guy, you have a guy ready to go. Again, the final roster decision, that’s a couple weeks to go still, so we’ll just have to wait and see.”

The Vikings liked Heinicke coming into last season, but when a severed foot tendon kept him out for much of the year, he missed his chance to stake his claim to the No. 2 quarterback job. He completed nine of 17 passes for 104 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in his first two preseason games. Heinicke did not practice on Sunday after getting hurt against Seattle, though his injury is not thought to be serious.

Whether he or Leidner is on the roster, or the practice squad, it seems clear the Vikings want to have at least three healthy quarterbacks in their system. To do otherwise, Shurmur suggested Monday, might leave them exposed to some risk.

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