At the start of last season the biggest question facing the Vikings was their offensive line, which had struggled mightily in 2018 as quarterback Kirk Cousins was sacked 40 times and the team rushed for just 1,493 yards, the fourth-lowest total in franchise history.
But that all changed in 2019 as a new offensive scheme was put in place under assistant head coach Gary Kubiak, who will take over as offensive coordinator this season, and offensive line coach Rick Dennison.
Last season the Vikings finished 10-6 and rushed for 2,133 yards and Cousins was sacked just 28 times.
Maybe the biggest change on the line last season was drafting center Garrett Bradbury out of North Carolina State in the first round. Bradbury replaced Pat Elflein, who was drafted out of Ohio State in the third round in 2017, and Elflein moved to guard.
And while the Vikings used another high draft pick on an offensive lineman this season, selecting Ezra Cleveland of Boise State with a second-round pick, the team also brings back four out of five starters on the line in left tackle Riley Reiff, Elflein at left guard, Bradbury at center and Brian O’Neill at right tackle, although Elflein’s spot is far from assured.
Bradbury said that the continuity from last season to this season should put the team at a big advantage when it ends its virtual training camp and gets back on the field in July.
“I think that’s where the Vikings have an advantage because we return pretty much the same offensive line room,” Bradbury said. “While we’re in meetings we still have the same continuity, the same camaraderie that we have. We’re joking around, and we’re serious when we need to be serious.
“We have a good veteran group, especially in the offensive line room. Guys are handling their business and doing what they would normally do so that the transition when we do get back together will be seamless. It will be nothing.”
Bradbury finished last season allowing just four sacks, according to Pro Football Focus, but he also committed eight penalties.
He said that this offseason has been very helpful because he has been able to look over every game to see where he needs to improve.
“I had a blast, first rookie season and now that we’re in meetings getting to go back and look and rewatch all the games and critique everything from the season as a whole — I think during the season it’s just so week to week,” Bradbury said.
Talk to anyone in football and they will tell you that having chemistry on the offensive line makes all the difference.
Bradbury said the Vikings will have that chemistry in 2020. Also returning are Dakota Dozier, Dru Samia or Aviante Collins.
“Chemistry is everything with offensive line,” Bradbury said. “There is a lot of communication involved, and I think when you have that chemistry you can have that nonverbal communication where guys know what’s happening, you know the system.”
And with Bradbury still being young, he said that confidence in his teammates makes all the difference.
“That is the beauty of having the same room, the same system, which is a very underrated thing,” he said. “Coach Kubiak has stepped into the OC role, but it’s essentially the same system. Although we all know it, we’re still learning and going back through it all, Day 1 install, Day 2 install.
“That chemistry, obviously getting fit into your blocks and getting full-speed reps is the most valuable thing, but I think we’re doing as much as we can right now from a virtual standpoint.”
Sabato vs. Meyer
No doubt the Twins got a good look at Aaron Sabato, the North Carolina first baseman whom they drafted No. 27 overall on Wednesday, when the Tar Heels came to U.S. Bank Stadium and played three games in the Gophers Classic earlier this year.
In fact Sabato and Max Meyer really battled on Feb. 28 when the Gophers topped North Carolina 4-1.
Meyer was drafted No. 3 overall by the Marlins on Wednesday, tying for the highest draft pick in Gophers history with Paul Molitor, who went No. 3 overall to the Brewers in 1977.
Sabato and Meyer faced each other four times in that game, with Sabato going 2-for-3. He doubled to right field in the second inning; followed that with a sacrifice fly in the top of the fourth; and in the seventh inning he led off with a single.
But Meyer got the best of him in the ninth when he struck him out looking on a full count.
North Carolina coach Mike Fox said the matchup wasn’t his favorite to remember.
“I pretty much tried to forget the game because that kid [Meyer] pretty much dominated us,” Fox said. “He was really good. I know [Sabato] got a couple hits. I think he might have doubled. But I don’t remember us getting many hits.”
Meyer pitched a complete game, allowing one run on five hits with 14 strikeouts and just one walk.
Hope for Twins?
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said this week that there’s a 100% chance baseball will be played this season.
But baseball is having a hard time coming to an agreement on how to get games played this summer, and that is a real reminder of the 1994-95 strike that cost Major League Baseball a World Series for the first time since 1904.
And while the sport is in a much different spot because of the coronavirus, if the players and owners can’t come to some kind of agreement, they are going to really hurt their sport — especially with the NHL, NBA, NFL and even MLS working so hard to come to agreements so that fans can watch games.
The other big thing is this: With the NBA returning in late July, if baseball wants to get into the marketplace and have a big audience, they need to get back before basketball tips off.
What has to be especially tough for the Twins players and front office is that the club has so much promise for this season. A great pitching staff, the best returning offense in all of baseball and new players Josh Donaldson and Kenta Maeda make them real World Series contenders.
You would have to go back a decade to find a season in which Twins fans were more excited about a campaign, so you have to imagine the club will do everything it can to get a season played.