Minnesota Vikings: What if the O-line doesn’t improve?

Oct 19, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; San Francisco 49ers guard Alex Boone (75) during the game against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 19, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; San Francisco 49ers guard Alex Boone (75) during the game against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports /

The Minnesota Vikings took steps to improve their offensive line this offseason, but that’s no guarantee their line play actually will get better.

How much did the Vikings struggle to protect Teddy Bridgewater in 2015? Though Bridgewater was only 21st in the league in number of pass attempts (447), he was sixth in number of sacks taken (44). And this is a quarterback who’s actually pretty good at getting away from pressure.

After watching his QB run for his life most of the season, Mike Zimmer knew something needed to be done about his offensive line. It wasn’t enough to just change personnel. A whole new demeanor was needed.

Exit Jeff Davidson and his possibly too-cerebral approach, enter Tony Sparano.

But the changes didn’t stop with the coaching switch. When free agency began, the Vikings moved aggressively to upgrade at their most troublesome position, signing former 49ers left guard Alex Boone to a 4-year, $26.8 million deal.

The Boone signing had the chain reaction effect of allowing the Vikings to switch struggling left guard Brandon Fusco back to right guard, the position he played in 2014 when he graded out as one of the league’s better interior linemen.

The Vikings also addressed their right tackle position with a pair of moves: keeping Phil Loadholt on a re-structured contract and bringing in former Bengals first-round pick Andre Smith on a one-year deal worth $3.5 million.

Minnesota also brought back 2015 starting right guard Mike Harris on a one-year deal worth $2 million.

Even after all these moves, some expected the Vikings to draft an offensive lineman in the first round. Ultimately the Vikes elected to go with receiver in the first, and didn’t take a lineman until they drafted project player Willie Beavers in the fourth.

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The end result of the Vikings’ moves is an offensive line that is now collectively being paid more than any line in the league. But does more expensive necessarily equal better?

The Vikings definitely have a lot of options as they head toward training camp. Right now, only the left tackle and left guard positions are set in stone starter-wise.

At center, the Vikes will choose between 2015 starter (and PFF no. 40 player) Joe Berger and former starter John Sullivan. The front-runner as of today is Sullivan, but everything depends on his being able to recover from a back injury that cost him the entire 2015 season.

At right guard you have a presumptive competition between 2014 starter Fusco and 2015 starter Harris. At right tackle Andre Smith is the penciled-in starter, but Phil Loadholt will certainly be given a chance to win back the job he lost last year due to a torn Achilles.

The Vikes also have 2015 starting right tackle T.J. Clemmings coming back at left tackle, as well as swing player Jeremiah Sirles, young center Nick Easton (who was acquired in last year’s Gerald Hodges trade) and 2015 draft pick Austin Shepherd.

You can’t say the Vikings don’t have options. But are they all necessarily good options?

Though folks in Minnesota are excited about the addition of Alex Boone and his reputation for “nastiness,” there is no guarantee that Boone will necessarily be able to slide right into the left guard spot and perform.

Left guard has been a black hole for Minnesota for years. Why have the Vikings struggled so mightily to find someone who can play alongside Matt Kalil? Getting Kalil and Boone on the same page will be a top priority for Tony Sparano.

Kalil himself is a huge question mark going into the last year of his contract. The former #4 overall pick has been a disappointment in Minnesota, and we will have to wait and see if Sparano can help him turn the light on.

Other question marks: The center and right guard positions were bright spots last year for Minnesota, but how will players like Sullivan, Fusco, Berger and Harris respond to Sparano’s approach? Will Andre Smith really provide an upgrade over T.J. Clemmings at right tackle?

The Vikings will look to tweak their offense in a lot of ways this year, and we still don’t know how all these different players will fit into the picture.

Next: Which young defender will be the next star?

Though fans are very optimistic after an offseason of moves both on the coaching staff and the roster, the truth is there is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the offensive line and the offense in general.

All I know for sure is that the Vikings must get better in pass protection if Teddy Bridgewater is going to have a chance to take the next step. If the line doesn’t improve, it will be a long year for the QB and the offense as a whole.

It won’t be enough to just be nasty. The Vikings need their offensive line to be good if they want to get beyond the first round of the playoffs this time around.