Rashod Hill stands 6-6, tying him for the tallest current Viking, but he’s not carrying the attitude of overlooking anybody.
That’s a welcome mentality for the Vikings, who could have tackle Mike Remmers returning to Sunday’s lineup against the Bengals while potentially losing another to injury in Riley Reiff. Stepping in for the sixth consecutive game — and seventh in the Vikings’ past 15 — would be Hill, the Southern Miss lineman who was undrafted in 2016 despite rare physical traits coveted by NFL teams.
He’s got an eye on Bengals linebacker Carl Lawson. The rookie fourth-round draft pick leads Cincinnati with 7½ sacks.
“Fifty-eight,” Hill said. “He’s made some tackles look bad on film. I’m not going to let that happen to me. I’m going to make sure Case [Keenum] don’t get hit.”
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer was optimistic about the health of a banged-up offensive line, which at one point went without three starters against Carolina on Sunday. Remmers (back) and center Pat Elflein (shoulder) are likely to play despite their injuries, according to Zimmer. Reiff, who was seen walking in the locker room without a noticeable limp, did not practice Wednesday because of an ankle injury.
Reiff’s first absence would be the sixth by a Vikings starting tackle this season, a situation Minnesota’s roster was not as well-equipped to handle before this season. Hill’s signing 13 months ago and ensuing development are the biggest factors in their ability to better weather these injuries.
That wasn’t so obvious against the Panthers, when Keenum was pressured on nearly half of his 55 dropbacks and took six sacks. Hill moved from right to left tackle once Reiff went out.
“[Hill] has been practicing there all the time anyway,” Zimmer said. “He was on a good rusher last week. You know those guys were good rushers. Sometimes you have those games.”
Even while developing on the job, especially as a run blocker, Hill has been a significant improvement over the Vikings’ recent backup tackles. It started with a phone call last November from Winter Park to Jacksonville, where the Vikings plucked Hill off the Jaguars’ practice squad.
The Jaguars wanted to keep Hill, offering him a promotion to their active roster. Following the advice of his agent, Hill said he chose Minnesota because of the opportunity. His agent had one additional recommendation for the Jacksonville native.
“He said bring a jacket,” Hill said.
A big one. Hill’s 6-6, 309-pound size alone can make him a difficult challenge for pass rushers. So there’s little question what drew the Vikings, desperately scouring the planet for pass protectors last season, to Hill.
“If he was 5-8 with really short arms, I don’t know,” offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said this summer about why the Vikings signed Hill.
Hill didn’t wait long, making his NFL debut as the Vikings left tackle in last year’s season finale and leaving a fine impression. Since then, Hill has validated the Vikings’ decision while protecting Keenum’s right side through the best four-game streak of the quarterback’s career.
“We all knew he’s a big, smart, strong kid,”offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirles said. “We all knew if he could figure out what he’s doing through a year of OTAs and all that, he could be a special player.”
This week in practice, Hill is preparing for increased responsibilities protecting Keenum’s blind side in case Reiff is forced to miss more game time.
“Made some strides just trusting myself more,” Hill said. “Last game, we gave up too many pressures and a couple sacks. Trying to get back up. There’s going to be some pressures sometimes when you’re throwing the ball, but I feel like I’ve gotten better trusting myself more.”
Just as Hill has built the Vikings’ trust in him.