The Vikings know who their starting center will be for the next few years. But what about the other four offensive line positions? As of now, John Sullivan is the only man who is guaranteed a job for 2012. Let’s examine the other four spots from left to right:
Left tackle To put it bluntly, Charlie Johnson has no business playing left tackle in the NFL. His run blocking has been passable, but in pass protection he has been a glaring liability. If Christian Ponder is going to develop he will need someone a lot better guarding his blindside. That’s where Matt Kalil comes in. The USC tackle has declared himself eligible for the draft and projects as the #2 overall pick. Right now the Vikings are in line to nab that #2 overall pick. If Kalil is there and the Vikings don’t take him, there could be a riot in the Twin Cities.
Left guard Steve Hutchinson has one year left on his contract. Hutch is still a serviceable guard, and would provide a nice stabilizing veteran presence alongside the rookie Kalil. However, Hutch’s salary number for 2012 might be a little too high for the Vikes to stomach. Would Hutch be willing to negotiate that number down in the off-season? If so, I would have no problem with Hutch returning for a last hurrah. If not, I would probably favor cutting him and giving someone else a shot. That someone could be Charlie Johnson who is currently over his head at left tackle but might make a solid guard.
Right guard It all depends on what happens with the left side. If the Vikings draft Kalil and decide to keep Hutch, Charlie Johnson can slide right in here. If Hutch goes, Johnson could become your left guard leaving the right guard spot up for grabs. Anthony Herrera is gone no matter what and Joe Berger is better served in a back-up role. If it’s not Johnson, the #1 choice is probably Brandon Fusco, the sixth-round pick who thanks to injury has seen a little time this year. DeMarcus Love could also be in the mix at this spot (more on him in a second).
Right tackle This could be the most problematic spot on the line. Phil Loadholt has the physical tools to be a solid right tackle but he continues to frustrate with his lack of development in pass protection. DeMarcus Love is sitting there as a possible replacement, but who knows? If I had to predict, I would guess we’ll end up seeing a Loadholt-Love competition in camp. Here’s a wild card pick: Kalil gets drafted and Hutch stays, and the Vikes like Fusco enough to use him at right guard. Now you use Charlie Johnson at right tackle where he’d be less overwhelmed. Johnson may not have Loadholt’s physical tools but he seems more disciplined. Ideally, you’d want Loadholt to figure it out and become a steady right tackle, but you can’t count on Loadholt at this point.
It’s all just speculation. As I said at the beginning, the only sure thing is John Sullivan starting at center. This is where a weaker man would bash Brad Childress for neglecting the offensive line in previous drafts, but thankfully I’m above all that.