Two days after the season-ending loss to the Seahawks, coach Mike Zimmer made it clear that changes would be coming to the subpar Vikings offensive line, starting with the parting of veteran line coach Jeff Davidson.
No quarterback was pressured more frequently than Teddy Bridgewater, who was under duress on 46.9 percent of his dropbacks, according to Pro Football Focus. He was sacked 44 times, sixth-most in the league.
The offensive line’s run blocking was better, paving the way for running back Adrian Peterson to lead the NFL in rushing for the third time in his career. But there were four games in which Peterson rushed for fewer than 50 yards, including the playoff loss, when he had 45 on 23 carries.
Injuries were a factor, with the Vikings losing center John Sullivan and right tackle Phil Loadholt to season-ending injuries during the preseason. But still, Zimmer had seen enough from Davidson and his offensive line.
There are question marks at every position along the line. Loadholt and fellow offensive tackle Matt Kalil could be cap casualties. Sullivan had two back surgeries last year. Rookie tackle T.J. Clemmings struggled. And guard Mike Harris is a free agent. So you should expect personnel changes.
But the hope is that new offensive line coach Tony Sparano will coax better play out of the offensive linemen who do return for the 2016 season.
Vikings free agents: Harris is set to be an unrestricted free agent. Carter Bykowski, the Eden Prairie native, is an exclusive rights free agent.
Level of need: Extremely high. The Vikings could look to add a quality lineman in free agency. They have only selected two offensive linemen, Loadholt and Kalil, in the first three rounds of the draft since 2007, but they should also strongly consider using a high draft pick on a lineman.
Stat that stands out: 4.4 — yards per carry for Peterson when running behind center Joe Berger, who was the biggest bright spot along the line last season. However, he is not guaranteed a starting spot in 2016.
Burning question: What will happen with Kalil and Loadholt? The Vikings must decide whether to keep Kalil, who will have a base salary of $11.1 million in 2016. They can save $6 million in cap space by cutting Loadholt, who just turned 30 and is trying to work his way back from a torn Achilles’ tendon. It seems likely the Vikings will say goodbye to one of them.
Check out the Access Vikings blog Monday for a look at the defensive line.