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Monday Morning Mailbag: Offensive Line Upgrades

Posted Jan 18, 2016

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I like the hiring of Tony Sparano as offensive line coach. It seems like he's cut from the same pedigree as Zimmer. Do you anticipate big improvement with the offensive line next year with all starters likely back plus the return of John Sullivan and Phil Loadholt?
-- Tom
Banks, OR

There’s a lot to like about the hiring of Sparano. Not only is he cut from the same cloth as Zimmer, but he has been a coordinator and head coach previously. That means Zimmer is adding an abundance of experience. I love when head coaches aren’t afraid to hire former head coaches to be on their staff. I do expect improvement from the offensive line because A) it’s a prideful group that will work to be better; B) the hiring of Sparano; C) there’s a good chance GM Rick Spielman and his staff will be able to utilize free agency and the draft to add more talented players to compete for spots on the depth chart.

With how well Joe Berger did this season at center, do you think he and Sully will have to earn the starting role, or will Berger return to his original position?
-- Ben
Burnsville, MN

One thing that resonated with me as much as anything during Zimmer’s end-of-season press conference last week was this quote:

“I’m not really going to hand out jobs on January 12.”

Now, that was in response to a question about Trae Waynes, but I would say the answer can be applied to any player on the roster. Competition will determine who plays.

Where did the Vikings defensive performance stand as far as best jobs containing Russell Wilson this season?
--Zach C.
Minneapolis, MN

It can be easily argued the Vikings performance against Wilson in the Wild Card round was the best of any defensive performance against him this season. The 13 completions, 142 passing yards and 63.3 rating Wilson had that day were the lowest of the season for him. The 50.0% completion mark was the second-lowest of the season for him and it was the first time since Week 10 he was held to just 1 TD pass. But Wilson made a couple of big plays when it mattered the most and that was enough to help his team win the game and advance to the next round, so you have to give him credit for that and it will serve as learning points for the Vikings this offseason.

Will that kind of heart-breaking loss to Seattle help or hurt the mentality of a young team in the future?
--Zach C.
Minneapolis MN

I can only see the experience of the Wild Card Weekend loss helping this young Vikings team. In that game, the Vikings gave the two-time defending champion Seahawks all they could handle, they weren’t able to make a couple of big plays in big spots and watched an experienced team do it instead, and they went through an experience and a feeling they should never want to experience again. It should all add up to something Coach Zimmer and the players can use to make themselves better in the offseason and as they prepare for the 2016 season.

Would it be out of the question to see the Vikings draft a wide receiver in the beginning rounds of the draft or is drafting a corner or safety a bigger priority?
-- Ryan
Tallahassee, FL

It’s way too early to hone in on what players or positions certain teams will be taking in the draft. We haven’t had the Senior Bowl, Combine or free agency yet, after all. Also, everyone focuses on the 1st-round pick and wonders what position will be addressed. But the draft has seven rounds and right now the Vikings are scheduled to make eight selections (two picks in the 7th round), so a lot of positions can be addressed.

I just want to congratulate Coach Zimmer and the Vikings for a great year and even with a heavy heart over the loss, I look forward to kicking the door in next year! Skol!
-- Brett Jennings

My Vikings all season showed all of the doubters what it is like to be a real TEAM! While I'm sure that there were moments during the season where they could have lost their cool, they fought in the trenches together and played Coach Zimmer-style football. I am so proud of my guys (including my coaches, all those in the organization's supporting roles and the amazing fan base)! While I recognize the business aspect of the NFL, I would love to see these same guys play together next season. That togetherness and brotherhood will only make for stronger recognition of what each other does in their individual roles, thus allowing them to be that much more of a tight-knit team. For the new guys coming in, they will see what it means to be a member of a real team. My hat's off to the Vikings organization! Super Bowls 51 and 52 belong to us! Go Vikes!
-- BK Jackson

I received a lot of messages like the two above since the end of the loss to Seattle. It speaks to two things: 1) The optimism about this team given the way they played in 2015 and 2) The passion and loyalty of the Vikings fan base, with the vast majority of the messages I’ve received being more about the pride in how the team played than about the frustration with how the season ended.