Joe Berger, starting left guard.
Go ahead and say it. It won’t hurt nearly as bad as many seem to fear.
The Vikings are at peace with that possibility. And with all due respect to Charlie Johnson, a quality person who gave the Vikings all he had for four seasons, Berger is, for now, a satisfactory upgrade at left guard. He should be viewed as the security blanket who allowed the Vikings to add two key defensive starters in the first two rounds of the draft .
That’s why General Manager Rick Spielman is quick to correct people who start their left-guard questions with, “you didn’t do anything at left guard in free agency …”
Actually, he did. He re-signed Berger, an 11-year veteran with 103 games played and 38 starts at center (21), right guard (14) and left guard (3). In 2011, he started at all three spots in the same season. In 2013, he started at left guard and right guard on consecutive weeks.
“He was one of the priorities that we definitely wanted to sign back because of his versatility, because of his experience,” Spielman said. “We are going to have a very young group of guys coming up behind him, but the one guy that we really wanted to target to keep on our roster from our own UFA’s was Joe Berger.”
David Yankey, a fifth-round draft pick in 2014, is the preferred candidate to start at left guard. But no one knows what to expect considering he wasn’t physically strong enough to be inserted into a game a year ago. And we know even less about this year’s late-round guard prospects, Tyrus Thompson and Austin Shepherd.
I asked center John Sullivan for his thoughts on Yankey’s progress. Even with a lot more insight, Sullivan seems like the rest of us who are waiting to see if the big kid can cut it on the field.
“It’s hard because you don’t want to single guys out yet,” Sullivan said. “But I will say this. Everybody is in here working incredibly hard [during the offseason conditioning program]. Guys are way stronger than they were at this time a year ago.
“We know that Yankey worked hard in the offseason with his trainer. And he looks good. But it’s about more than this. This is one component of it. But it’s April. The assessments on who’s ready to play are going to be made later. The first step is OTAs. Then you get into real football. And then decisions are made. There are plenty of variables that could change. But as of right now, I think he’s done everything he can do.”
Sullivan hasn’t practiced alongside Yankey or had a chance to see his practice tape.
“He’s a hard worker, I know that,” Sullivan said. “But in terms of breaking down his tape, the scout team analysis when they watch film is done without your starting group. So I’m not sure because I haven’t watched anything.”
Sullivan made it clear that he would welcome Berger as the starter. A year ago, Berger made nine starts at right guard. He was the second-best lineman on the team behind Sullivan. If you need numbers to back up your eyeballs, ProFootballFocus.com has them.
“I think he’s a starting-caliber player on a lot of teams in the league at either guard spot and especially at center,” Sullivan said. “So I’d be happy to play any single game next to any single opponent next to Joe Berger. I don’t know what the plan is. That’s stuff above my pay grade. But he already proved again the second half of last season that he’s more than capable of starting.”