EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — No position group underwent more change during the 2017 offseason that the Vikings offensive line.
And no unit was more improved from one season to the next than the men in the trenches.
After a 2016 season in which the Minnesota offensive line dealt with injuries and inconsistent play, the Vikings reshuffled the deck heading into 2017.
Offensive tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers were added in free agency, and the Vikings took Ohio State center Pat Elflein in the third round of the draft.
Previous starters moved around as Joe Berger and Nick Easton — who had both started at center in the past — were penciled in at the guard spots.
The results were bountiful, as the Vikings gave up just 27 sacks all season, which tied for the seventh-fewest in the NFL. Minnesota surrendered 38 sacks the season before, which was the 10th-most in the league.
While the offseason acquisitions made a difference, depth was still needed as the Vikings used seven different starting offensive line combinations in the regular season.
Berger was a mainstay on the line, as he started every game and played all but two snaps.
The 13-year veteran, who had mainly played center the previous two seasons in Purple, was a selfless leader who played a key role in paving the way for Minnesota to rush for 1,957 total yards, more than 750 yards than the 2016 season.
"That's something that we've just been effective at. There's a million things that go into a run game," said Berger, who deflected credit away from himself. "To pick the one thing that has made it work, I think that's an impossible task to do. It's a team effort – receivers, tight ends, running backs, o-line, quarterback – everybody. Just working together as a team."
Reiff, who was voted as a captain by his teammates, rarely spoke to the media but led by example with his play.
Remmers played the majority of his snaps at right tackle before moving to left guard in the postseason due to injuries.
"I think he's one of our five best players, so that was the number one thing," Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer explained about the move. "I think Mike is very aware of the things that happen inside there.
"He's got good quickness, good in the running game. He's been impressive in pass protection to me," Zimmer added. "So, we're just trying to get the five guys who we felt were the best on the field."
Elflein was named to the All-Rookie Team by the Pro Football Writers of America. He was praised by teammates and coaches alike for mastering the transition into the NFL.
"His athleticism is really good," Zimmer said. "I mean, he can get his hips into a lot of places and get guys cut off that really should be hard to do because the position of the guy he's blocking. That's big.
"Pat doesn't say much, which is also impressive," Zimmer added. "He just kind of keeps his mouth shut and does his job, which is a good thing for a rookie, too."
Although his season ended in Week 16 due to an ankle injury, Easton helped the Vikings revamp their screen game in his first full season as a starter.
Zimmer commended Easton's athleticism shortly after his ankle injury.
"Not just with the screen passes but some of the other things because he could get to the second level and use his athleticism," Zimmer said. "I think it had a lot to do with it. We got some more athletic guys in there, we were a little bit shorter in stature. I thought it helped our offense quite a bit."
While those five were the principal starters on the line, Rashod Hill (seven) and Jeremiah Sirles (four) each made multiple starts for Minnesota.
Rookie Danny Isidora made his first career start, and fellow rookie Aviante Collins was used in jumbo packages as an extra offensive linemen.
*8 — *Minnesota had eight linemen start at least one game in 2017.
The Vikings were riding a five-game win streak with the Los Angeles Rams rolled into town in a battle of two of the NFC's top teams. And while there was plenty of buzz about the Rams talented defense that featured a bevy of top picks, the Vikings offensive line won the day in a 24-7 win.
Minnesota rushed for a season-high 171 yards along with two scores as the ground game averaged 4.9 yards per carry. The big boys up front also kept the quarterback clean, as Case Keenum was not sacked as he threw for 280 yards and a touchdown.
*Regular Season Statistics *
15 starts, 15 games played (1,008 offensive snaps = 90.32 percent)
12 starts, 12 games played (748 offensive snaps = 67.03 percent)
14 starts, 14 games played (958 offensive snaps = 85.84 percent)
16 starts, 16 games played (1,114 offensive snaps = 99.82 percent)
11 starts, 11 games played (675 offensive snaps = 60.48 percent)
7 starts, 12 games played (591 offensive snaps = 52.96 percent)
4 starts, 14 games played (344 offensive snaps = 30.82 percent)
1 start, 7 games played (147 offensive snaps = 13.17 percent)
0 starts, 4 games played (28 offensive snaps = 2.51 percent)
"I felt like our personnel department did a really good job in getting guys in here. I thought [Vikings offensive line coach] Tony Sparano did a really good job. We started out the season with basically five different starters on the offensive line. Those guys played together, they were good athletes. The guys that we brought in had the right demeanor and attitude. I was able to talk to a couple of them before they left, and they really liked how things went." — Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer on the improved play of the unit in 2017