The Vikings’ offseason competition along the offensive line mostly showed up in reserve ranks, where a couple draft picks were nudged off the team’s initial 53-man roster.
For the most part, the faces stayed the same under first-year position coach Tony Sparano. Though one player he pegged had the ability to “dent people,” fourth-round pick Willie Beavers, became the highest NFL draft selection this year not to make an active roster out of the preseason.
A left tackle at Western Michigan, Beavers (6-4, 322) impressed Vikings scouts on tape with how he fared against top-level competition like Michigan State. Descriptors like “tough,” “big” and “physical” were commonplace reasons for why the Vikings used the 121st-overall pick on him. After all, he started 40 straight games in college.
He had the physical abilities the Vikings sought. Though during the draft, director of college scouting Jamaal Stephenson cautioned Beavers would need to clean up the finer points like technique and footwork on top of the 22-year-old needing to meet NFL standards for strength.
After his first training camp, it became clear Beavers would need more than one offseason to develop into a game-day consideration. He transitioned to guard, much like the other former college tackle who was let go last week in 2015 seventh-round pick Austin Shepherd. There, Beavers slipped behind undrafted guards Zac Kerin and Isame Faciane, landing with the third unit.
The Vikings ultimately kept Kerin, tackle T.J. Clemmings, center Nick Easton and guard/tackle Jeremiah Sirles as the line’s reserves. All four were also eligible for the practice squad, but the Vikings pegged Beavers as the one most likely to clear waivers and in need of extra time to develop. according to head coach Mike Zimmer.
“You know, there’s a lot of things,” Zimmer said. “A lot of the times it’s not necessarily what they didn’t do. It’s more who do we feel like can get through to the practice squad? And who do we think has more developmental qualities? [Beavers] had a transition from tackle to guard, which is not the easiest thing all of the time. You know, with a lot of these young guys, it just takes time.”
The Vikings saw that firsthand with another fourth-round pick, Clemmings, who last year was forced to start every game at right tackle following Phil Loadholt’s season-ending injury. His play was uneven, so he’s been relegated to the swing tackle role behind new right tackle Andre Smith.
The Vikings will start left tackle Matt Kalil, guard Alex Boone, center Joe Berger, guard Brandon Fusco and Smith during Sunday’s regular season opener in Tennessee.