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Vikings Season Review: Offensive Line Finds Continuity After Injuries

Posted Jan 23, 2016

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — After injuries hit the offensive line hard early, the unit faced some questions entering the season.

But the Vikings established and ended the season with continuity. The group of left tackle Matt Kalil, left guard Brandon Fusco, center Joe Berger, right guard Mike Harris and right tackle T.J. Clemmings started every game together this season.

It was the first time the Vikings had the same five players start all 16 games since 2012 and quite a departure from the 2014 season when the Vikings used five different combinations of starting offensive linemen.

The unit paved the way as running back Adrian Peterson led the NFL with 1,485 yards to garner his third career rushing title. And while the offensive line gave up 45 sacks, they also allowed second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to take a step forward as he improved his completion percentage and passer rating. 

According to nflpenalties.com, the Vikings offensive linemen were assessed a total of 18 penalties in the regular season and Wild Card game, helping Minnesota commit the fewest infractions (90 in the regular season and postseason) of any team, an improvement of 10 from 2014.

Here’s a look at how the offensive line fared in 2015:

Matt Kalil, Left Tackle

The 2012 first-round pick extended his consecutive starts streak to 64 games. A Pro Bowl selection in 2012, Kalil is the only lineman to appear in every game over the last four years. The durable Kalil missed his first snaps in Week 16 with a brief leg injury, but still helped the Vikings rush for 218 yards against the New York Giants. Kalil said he felt healthier going into this season, which boosted his confidence and performance.

Brandon Fusco, Left Guard

Fusco missed most of the 2014 season with a torn pectoral muscle, but returned this year at a new position. After playing right guard for most of his career, Fusco switched to the left side in 2015. He helped Peterson rush for 11 touchdowns, which tied for the best mark in the league.

Joe Berger, Center 

Berger also slid over into a new position this season. He played right guard last season when Fusco got hurt, but was the center this year after a back injury to John Sullivan. Berger fared well this season and was graded by Pro Football Focus as the league’s best run blocker.

Mike Harris, Right Guard

Like two of his fellow offensive linemen, Harris settled into a new position in 2015. He made 16 starts at right guard, a position he’d never started at before this year. Harris, who was picked up from the Chargers in 2014, spent time in San Diego with Vikings Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner.

T.J. Clemmings, Right Tackle

The Vikings selected Clemmings in the fourth round of the 2015 NFL Draft out of Pittsburgh, where he was originally a defensive lineman. Clemmings was thrust into a starting role right away in his first pro season when Phil Loadholt tore his Achilles during the preseason. Clemmings became the third rookie in team history to start a season opener at right tackle. He tied the franchise record with 16 starts as a rookie and was flagged just two times this season.

Reserves

Before their injuries, Sullivan and Loadholt were two of the Vikings most dependable linemen, as the duo combined for 182 starts since the 2009 season. Loadholt was voted as a 2013 All-Pro by Pro Football Focus while Sullivan was a 2012 All-Pro by Pro Football Focus and the Pro Football Writers Association.

Guard Zac Kerin appeared in four games after being on Minnesota’s practice squad for all of last season. He was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Toledo.

Second-year center Nick Easton was acquired midway through the season in a trade with San Francisco. Easton, a graduate of Harvard, did not appear in any games for the Vikings.

Rookie guard Austin Shepherd appeared in 14 games this season after being a seventh-round pick out of Alabama in the 2015 NFL Draft. Shepherd played on special teams and also reported as eligible in goal line situations as an extra blocker.

Jeremiah Sirles, a backup tackle who was previously with the Chargers, was active for three games this season but did not see any action.