The Vikings have spent training camp weighing their options at center, giving both Nick Easton and Pat Elflein plenty of time with their first-team offense. As they conducted their final practice of the preseason Tuesday, it sounded as though the Vikings have concluded their competition.
Asked if his starting offensive line is settled, coach Mike Zimmer said, “I believe so.”
On Sunday night, the Vikings fielded a line of Riley Reiff at left tackle, Alex Boone at left guard, Easton at center, Joe Berger at right guard and Mike Remmers at right tackle. In the middle of the second quarter, Easton moved to left guard once Elflein entered the game along with second-team tackle Rashod Hill.
The Vikings used Easton at center and Berger at right guard during the final five games of last season, and began the preseason with the same configuration, giving Elflein one start at center in Seattle when Easton played left guard in place of Boone.
On Tuesday, the Vikings had Elflein at center with Easton at right guard on the first team, though Berger did not participate in any of the’ team drills as offensive line coach Tony Sparano — who was Berger’s head coach in 2009 and 2010 in Miami — gave the 35-year-old a lighter day of work.
Starters may play
The final preseason game on an NFL calendar is typically a chance for teams to take an extended look at players fighting for roster spots, make final decisions on the 53-man roster and give veterans some rest before the beginning of the regular season.
After the performance of their starters Sunday night against the San Francisco 49ers, though, the Vikings might not treat it that way.
Zimmer wouldn’t divulge his plan for Thursday’s preseason finale against the Dolphins, saying he hadn’t told players or coaches how he’d like to approach the game, he hinted he might put his starters back on the field.
“After the other night, I feel like they should play,” Zimmer said. “So we’ll see.”
The Vikings were outgained 143-19 in the first quarter against the 49ers on Sunday night, and pulled their starters at halftime after falling behind 14-0. They scored 32 points behind Case Keenum and Taylor Heinicke in the second half to win by a point as time expired, but most of the team’s attention after the game was trained on a subpar performance in what is traditionally the most important game of the preseason.
Zimmer helps Hunter
Even though he had 12½ sacks last year in a rotational role and has posted 18 ½ during his first two seasons in the league, 22-year-old Danielle Hunter has the Vikings believing he can be even better.
To that end, Zimmer on Tuesday worked with Hunter on techniques to help him be even more explosive.
“I talked to him today actually about, there’s times when he wants to raise up and start to peek to see what the play is going to be instead of coming off low, defeating his man and then, once he gets control of it, figure out what’s going on from there,” Zimmer said. “To me, that’s the next step in the development.”
During the 6-foot-5 Hunter’s first season, the Vikings let him rush the quarterback out of a two-point stance at times, since he had a tendency to rise up in his stance anyway. Now that Hunter is a starter who’s likely to see some time at both left and right end, the Vikings want him to leverage his impressive strength.
“[When you start high,] you don’t use your butt and your legs, the strong muscles that you have that you can lock out and really power lift the guy,” Zimmer said. “That’s where it comes, if he’s on one of the tackles and his job is to go attack the tackle and the first thing he’s doing is thinking about playing the run. It’s a little bit different with the tight ends, but on the open side, he’ll come off and he’ll be quicker to transfer on play-action passes and things like that, which is where I think he needs to be.”