Everybody is excited about the Vikings' offensive performance in beating the Saints 29-19 in Week 1. They were ranked 28th out of 32 teams in the NFL last season in total offense. The big concern about the offense was could the line protect Sam Bradford, and last season the line finished with the 10th-most sacks allowed in the NFL with 38.

What was truly great about the performance was that the offensive line that started Monday never played together on a single preseason snap, and none of the starting five played the same position last season for the Vikings.

Looking back to the offensive line that finished last season, the starting left tackle was T.J. Clemmings (who was cut before the season), the left guard was Joe Berger, the center was Nick Easton, the right guard was Brandon Fusco and the right tackle was Jeremiah Sirles.

Only two of those players remain starters this season, but they're in different spots. Riley Reiff started at left tackle Monday night while Easton was at left guard, rookie Pat Elflein was at center, Berger was at right guard and Mike Remmers was at right tackle.

Bradford, who used the great protection to post maybe the best start of his career and was named NFC Player of the Week on Wednesday, talked about what he saw from the line in the first game.

"They played great," Bradford said. "Like I said after the game, they deserved the game ball. They kept me clean all night. They opened holes in the run game, Dalvin [Cook] went over 100. Those guys just really came together.

"Like I said, I think there's been a lot of talk outside this building about that group and about those guys, but inside this building I know we've got nothing but confidence in them. We've seen it during OTAs. We've seen it during training camp. Those guys have the ability to play well and to be a really good offensive line, and they showed it the other night."

The other big plus for the linemen was their lack of penalties — something that really hurt them last season and in the preseason.

Remmers had a holding call in the second quarter and Easton had a false start penalty on a touchdown drive before halftime. In the second half they didn't commit a single penalty.

After the game coach Mike Zimmer had high praise for Remmers, the newly signed free agent.

"I thought he played well, he's a fighter," Zimmer said. "I thought he did a good job in the run game and the pass game."

Meanwhile Berger, who has played just about everywhere on the offensive line, said they were pleased with their play but know they have room to get better.

"As offensive linemen, we're pretty hard on ourselves," he said. "So there's always things to look back and find. ... We may not have been on the field as a group together [in the preseason], but we've been together quite a bit."

Fleck sees challenge

While Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck had many positive things to say about his team's performance at Oregon State, he also said he knows how tough Middle Tennessee will be when it visits TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday.

"When I was at Western Michigan we played coach [Rick] Stockstill's team in the [2015] Bahamas Bowl and the [wide receiver Richie] James kid and [Brent] Stockstill, their quarterback, were still the same players, extremely dynamic offense. They have NFL wide receivers. I think Stockstill is a kid that is just like [Cowboys backup quarterback] Kellen Moore at Boise State in terms of an incredibly efficient quarterback and they're very, very talented.

"Their defense is playing well. [Defensive coordinator] Scott Shafer, who used to be at Syracuse, and I actually played at Northern Illinois, I know him very well. He has an odd package, an even package on defense, blitzes from everywhere, always has creative defenses. You can see why they had a lot of success against Syracuse. They're a very tough opponent. They're a very, very good football team, and we have to play our best football that we've ever played."

Stockstill threw for 269 yards and three scores and rushed for another 41 vs. Syracuse, and James had eight receptions for 96 yards and a score. Fleck called James, who projects as a fourth-round NFL draft pick next season, one of the best receivers he has coached against.

Meanwhile when Fleck was asked what made the difference between the display vs. Buffalo compared to Oregon State, he said they did almost everything better.

"I think we did better on first and second down, offensively, to set up shorter and more manageable third downs," he said. "I thought on defense we tackled better, we swarmed better, and we created more takeaways. Then on special teams I thought we created the field position we needed to, and we made two field goals. You know when we talk about last week we didn't do those things."


• The Twins have only three free agents on their roster for next season: catcher Chris Gimenez, reliever Matt Belisle, and injured starter Hector Santiago. Belisle, on the basis of his performance of late, posting a 1.42 ERA over 31⅔ innings in his past 30 appearances, including seven saves, will be the most important player to re-sign.

• Both top San Diego executives, whose team finished a two-game set vs. the Twins on Tuesday, have Minnesota ties. Ron Fowler, the executive chairman, is a St. Thomas graduate from St. Cloud, and the chief operating officer, Erik Greupner, is from Plymouth.

• Xavier Rhodes and Steelers star wideout Antonio Brown both attended Norland High School in Miami and know each other well. In Brown's one contest against the Vikings back in 2013 he caught 12 passes but was held to just 88 yards.

• The Vikings' win over the Saints impressed a lot of national writers. Elliot Harrison at NFL.com moved them up to 11th in his power rankings from 20th, and ESPN.com moved them to 12th from 17th.

•JD Spielman, the son of Vikings General Manager Rick, is playing for Nebraska and returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown against Arkansas State. He also has caught four passes for 73 yards in two games. And Kyle Shurmur, the son of offensive coordinator Pat, is the starting quarterback at Vanderbilt and has thrown for 498 yards and seven touchdowns with no picks in two games. They recently defeated Middle Tennessee, the Gophers' opponent on Saturday, 28-6. Shurmur completed 20 of 28 passes for 296 yards and three scores.

Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. Monday and Friday, 2 p.m. Friday and 10:30 a.m. Sunday. shartman@startribune.com