Mike Harris, one of the last Vikings guards to start every game in a season, visited his former team this summer during a training camp internship, and the new guy in the lineup – right guard Oli Udoh – quickly stood out to him.
"You can see physically he's long, but he has that power you need," said Harris, now an offensive line coach at Macalester. "That should help him in his transition."
Harris, like Udoh, was a former college tackle at UCLA before he moved to guard in the pros and started every game for the Vikings during the 2015 season. While Udoh has only made one NFL start, at tackle, coaches picked him early this summer over incumbent starter Dakota Dozier and rookie third-round pick Wyatt Davis.
Harris said Udoh's move can work, in part because of his 320 pounds and an above-average strength that can help anchor against bigger defenders. His style plays into coach Mike Zimmer's directive to field bigger offensive linemen after the interior was bullied in 2020.
"I'm 6-6, long arms, kind of quick," said Udoh, 24, a 2019 sixth-round pick out of Elon. "If you can put that in a compact area, you got a pretty good guard, and I guess that's what they saw in me."
The action happens faster inside, where Udoh said he embraces an even more physical position. Spending much of camp in the starting lineup taught Udoh about punching earlier than anticipated against powerful defensive tackles like Dalvin Tomlinson and Michael Pierce.
Perhaps Udoh will stop the Vikings' carousel at the position. He will be the 17th different guard to appear in a regular-season game since Harris and Brandon Fusco made every start in 2015. With veteran backup Rashod Hill starting at left tackle, second-year guard Ezra Cleveland switching sides, center Garrett Bradbury looking for improvement and Udoh in his first starting role, the line again conjures questions.
"I think there's some unknowns there," Zimmer said. "Udoh playing guard, [where Ezra] Cleveland played there all of last year; Bradbury; Rashod's played a lot at left tackle in the past, so I think it's a little bit [of] unknowns, but I don't think it's a major concern. We'll just have to find out if [the Bengals] have got some good rushers."
Udoh's promotion may come with additional responsibilities. With the team's typical swing tackle, Hill, starting on the left side for injured rookie Christian Darrisaw, there's a possibility Udoh becomes the backup tackle. Udoh has also taken practice reps at tackle while offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak prepares for injury replacements.
"He could be the starting right guard, or starting left tackle at any time," Kubiak said.