EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings entered the 2019 season with a new look along the offensive line, both with player positions and within the coaching staff.
Minnesota unveiled a starting offensive line in the offseason that stayed together for the majority of the year, even if it included some fresh faces up front.
The changes came on the interior of the line, as Pat Elflein shifted to left guard after being the starting center for his first two seasons in Minnesota. Elflein's position switch occurred because the Vikings drafted center Garrett Bradbury in the first round with the 18th overall selection. Josh Kline, a free-agent acquisition, primarily manned the right guard spot in 2019.
The bookends were mainstays from 2018, as Riley Reiff once again was voted a team captain at left tackle. Brian O'Neill developed into a high-caliber right tackle, starting 15 games a season after he started 11 as a rookie.
There was also a new position coach, as Rick Dennsion was hired in February as the Vikings offensive line coach/run game coordinator.
There were also a few key depth players who were called upon, as newcomer Dakota Dozier started four total games at guard, including three on the right side. Rashod Hill and Aviante Collins each also made one start, which came in Week 17 when Minnesota rested most of its offensive starters.
View the best photos from Vikings team photographers of the offensive line during the 2019 season.
That game also gave two rookies — guard Dru Samia and tackle Oli Udoh — a chance to see their first extended action in the NFL.
Brett Jones also provided depth, although he was on Injured Reserve for the final two months of the season with a knee injury.
The Vikings committed to an athletic group that focused mainly on a zone scheme in the running game, and the improvements were notable in 2019.
Minnesota ranked sixth in both rushing yards per game (133.3) and total rushing touchdowns (19) in 2019. That was an uptick from 2018 when the Vikings were 30th with 93.3 rushing yards per game, and tied for 29th with just nine rushing scores.
The Vikings offensive line also gave up fewer sacks in 2019 than a season ago, as Kirk Cousins was only brought down 28 times, compared to taking 40 sacks in 2018.
The Vikings used four different starting combinations on the offensive line, including Week 17 when Minnesota rested Reiff and O'Neill. Prior to that, the Vikings had the same starting five in eight of nine games.
It's rare than an offensive lineman finds the end zone, but the Vikings skill players found a way to make the big boys up front feel appreciated after scoring touchdowns in 2019.
Minnesota's running backs made it a point of emphasis this past season to hand the ball to their offensive linemen for a celebratory spike. The blockers then took great pride in slamming the pigskin down to the turf to punctuate a rushing touchdown.
Seemingly every starting offensive lineman joined the celebration at one point or another during the season, as other teams then copied the celebration for themselves.
The Vikings running backs room had some fun with the celebrations in late November when they dissected the film and handed out grades for the best spike among the linemen.
876 offensive snaps; 85.55 percent of total offensive snaps
921 offensive snaps; 89.94 percent of total offensive snaps
Team-high 989 offensive snaps; 96.58 percent of total offensive snaps
734 offensive snaps; 71.68 percent of total offensive snaps
969 offensive snaps; 94.63 percent of total offensive snaps
362 offensive snaps; 35.55 percent of total offensive snaps
152 offensive snaps; 14.84 percent of total offensive snaps
49 offensive snaps; 4.79 percent of total offensive snaps
31 offensive snaps; 3.03 percent of total offensive snaps
31 offensive snaps; 3.03 percent of total offensive snaps
1 offensive snap; 0.10 percent of total offensive snaps
2 Highest highs
1. Balanced performances don't get much better than what the offensive line did in Week 3 against the Raiders.
Minnesota's unit paved the way for 211 total rushing yards, which tied for the most by the Vikings in a game in 2019. But the unit also didn't allow a single sack against Oakland, one of five times in which the line kept a Vikings quarterback clean for the entire game.
That marked the only time where the Vikings didn't allow a sack and also recorded 175-plus rushing yards in the same game in 2019.
2. The Vikings also didn't allow a sack in Week 15 against the Chargers, as Minnesota recorded 137 total rushing yards in Southern California.
But what made that performance so impressive was that it came against a pair of dynamic pass rushers in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram.
Furthermore, the Vikings were also shorthanded at running back, as Dalvin Cook left the game just a minute into the third quarter, and rookie Alexander Mattison did not play due to an injury.
The line helped Mike Boone rush for 56 yards on 13 attempts as the Vikings backup running back also scored the first two touchdowns of his NFL career.
The Lowest low
1. The performance didn't match the hype of a Week 16 home game between the Vikings and Packers on Monday Night Football.
With Minnesota still alive in the race for the NFC North, the Vikings allowed five sacks, the second-highest total of the 2019 season.
And with the Vikings missing Cook and Mattison, the running game struggled to the tune of 57 yards and no touchdowns on 16 carries, good for just 3.6 yards per attempt.
"I think they improved quite a bit. I think Rick Dennison did an outstanding job with them. I think the scheme helped them. I thought that was a good group. I think we've got some young guys that we basically redshirted this year that I think are going to have opportunities to be good football players. I'm hoping that becomes even more of a strength for us next year, and we'll be looking to continually try to improve not just that position, but all of them."
— Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer on the offensive line's play in 2019
"We knew going into the game that it was going to be won upfront. They outrushed us, protected the quarterback better. I briefly watched the film, and there's a lot of things we could have done better. It's a tough taste to leave in your mouth at the end of a season because there were some awesome moments, but that's the way it is."
— Bradbury the day after a playoff loss to the 49ers