Jeff Davidson fired as Vikings begin O-line fix

Jul 25, 2014; Mankato, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings offensive line coach Jeff Davidson instructs his players in drills at training camp at Minnesota State University. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 25, 2014; Mankato, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings offensive line coach Jeff Davidson instructs his players in drills at training camp at Minnesota State University. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports /

Jeff Davidson is out as the Vikings’ offensive line coach, and that should only be the first of several changes as the team looks to fix its blocking issues.

The Vikings’ No. 1 priority for this offseason must be improving their offensive line, which never gelled as a consistent unit in 2015, leaving Teddy Bridgewater often running for his life.

That upgrading effort will begin with the addition of a new offensive line coach after today’s news of the firing of Jeff Davidson.

Mike Zimmer was rather terse in explaining why Davidson’s contract would not be renewed (via Minneapolis StarTribune):

"“I’ve not renewed the offensive line coach’s contract,” [Zimmer] said.Asked if assistant line coach Hank Fraley was a possibility, Zimmer said, “Everybody is a possibility.”When asked to elaborate on his decision, Zimmer was even more brief and to the point.“I didn’t want to,” he said."

As annoyed as Zimmer was by the media questioning him about his decision, that’s how bugged Vikings fans were by the sight of their quarterback being hit over and over.

Teddy Bridgewater was sacked 44 times in 2015, tying him with Matthew Stafford for the sixth-most times sacked. But the QBs below Bridgewater on that list all attempted significantly more passes.

When you take number of attempts into account, the Vikings gave up sacks at a faster rate than any team in the league except the San Francisco 49ers.

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And that sack rate would have been worse were it not for Bridgewater’s considerable ability to evade pass rushers and throw the ball away.

It’s good that Bridgewater is so proficient at spinning out of sacks and firing the ball out-of-bounds but that is not a skill you wish to see displayed multiple times each game.

As the season wore on the Vikings were forced to alter their offensive game plan to compensate for the lack of pass protection, abandoning seven-step drops and going to short throws.

Had the Vikings not taken this step, it’s very possible Teddy Bridgewater would not be alive today.

Breaking it down position-by-position, the Vikings got good work by-and-large this season from center Joe Berger and right guard Mike Harris and adequate work from left tackle Matt Kalil until he was slowed by injury, but saw left guard Brandon Fusco and right tackle T.J. Clemmings mostly struggle.

But individual performance matters less with offensive line play than how the entire unit works together, and the truth is that the Vikings O-line never seemed to really come together as a whole under Jeff Davidson this year.

The specifics of what went wrong will of course remain obscure to those of us on the outside, but Mike Zimmer’s terse comments seem to suggest that Davidson’s performance simply was not up to snuff in his eyes.

It’s possible Davidson’s approach simply did not work for what Norv Turner was trying to do offensively and it was decided that a change needed to be made.

And rest assured, more changes will be coming as free agency and the draft arrive.

Next: Vikings reportedly inquire about Dan Campbell

The Vikings have several key issues they must address personnel-wise:

1. Left tackle Matt Kalil is due to make $11 million in 2016 after his option was picked up, but that money is not guaranteed. The Vikings must decide whether to let him go, work out a new deal with him or keep him for one year at $11 million.

Kalil did play better this year but saw a recurrence of leg issues as the season wore on. Do the Vikings believe Kalil can stay healthy?

2. Brandon Fusco was downright awful at left guard and seemed to have communication issues with Kalil. Fusco was a good right guard but the switch of position seemed to totally ruin him. At the very least, you have to create a competition at left guard.

3. John Sullivan’s season ended due to back issues and for all we know he will never play another snap in the NFL. Joe Berger did a surprisingly good job in Sullivan’s place but how long can you lean on the veteran at center?

4. Mike Harris was a surprise at right guard and at 27 is someone you might want to lock up.

5. T.J. Clemmings went through loads of rookie struggles at right tackle. He should be in the mix in 2016 but I don’t think he should outright be given the starting job.

6. Phil Loadholt has one year left on his contract but could end up a cap casualty.

7. The Vikings scrambled to find backups during training camp last year and will go into this offseason once again needing to beef up their overall depth.

Free agency and draft options on the offensive line will no doubt be discussed at length as the offseason wears on. For now, all we know with certainty is that the Vikings will have a new man coaching the line.

Will that man be former Miami Dolphins interim head coach Dan Campbell? The Vikings reportedly inquired about Campbell after he was officially let go by Miami.

Campbell has ties to Mike Zimmer and is seen as a strong positional coach who brings a certain gritty attitude.

It’s very possible Davidson was let go because Zimmer already had Campbell in mind. Whoever the Vikings hire to replace Davidson will have a tall task ahead of him.