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O'Connell: Vikings O-Line Depth Being 'Ultimately Stressed' by O'Neill & Schlottmann Injuries

EAGAN, Minn. – The Vikings are looking ahead to the regular-season finale without offensive linemen Brian O'Neill and Austin Schlottmann.

O'Neill and Schlottmann left Sunday's game at Green Bay with a calf and ankle injury, respectively.

Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell spoke to media members Monday and said the right tackle and center – the latter of whom had already been subbing for an injured Garrett Bradbury – suffered "pretty significant leg injuries"; further details are still to follow.

"We're still going through the medical evaluation process and ultimately what those timelines look like, but we won't have either of those players this week, and their status moving forward is to be determined with some more medical information as the day goes on," O'Connell said.

He added that a few other players had some "bumps and bruises" in the loss but will be day-to-day.

"[This] is a huge loss for our team," O'Connell said of O'Neill and Schlottmann. "Brian O'Neill, considering all he's done and the consistency, a pillar over there on the right side for us. Then Austin stepping in for us when Garrett went down, giving us some really meaningful good snaps to help our offense stay on schedule.

"We felt their loss yesterday, and we're going to have do everything we can to have those players stepping into those roles ready to play good football for us and contribute on the offensive side," O'Connell added.

When O'Neill went out at Lambeau Field, Olisaemeka Udoh stepped in and played the remaining 45 snaps at the right tackle spot. Udoh received a pass-blocking grade of 74.0 from analytics site Pro Football Focus and a run-blocking grade of 63.2.

It's likely that Udoh, who started all 16 games for Minnesota at right guard last season, will continue to fill in for O'Neill.

"Oli … stepped in yesterday and gave us some good snaps against a good front and some good rush there. [It] kind of flashed some real traits that Oli's always shown," O'Connell said. "And obviously, there's going to be some things when he didn't get a lot of repetition in practice that you can improve on, and we're hoping that he's able to do that with a week of prep leading in. But, yeah, that's kind of how we're looking about handling that in the short-term."

With Schlottmann out, Chris Reed will step into the center role.

Reed played 53 snaps for the Vikings Sunday and received a pass-blocking grade of 74.7 from PFF.

There were some growing pains for the unit, especially with snap counts and in the run game, as a result of working with a center that hadn't previously taken reps with the starters.

"We've got to get Chris as much repetition as we can, just when you look at already having played your No. 2 center (Schlottmann) and wanting to get him up to speed," O'Connell said. "Chris was able to step in there and respond in that moment and do the best job he could, considering the fact he really hadn't had a lot of center reps, more so than some of the guard reps that he gets sprinkled in throughout the practice week and on the [scout] team.

"He's a veteran player, smart, tough. He knows our system," O'Connell added. "He knows with a week of preparation that I think he'll be confident that he can go out and perform at a winning level."

View game action photos from the Vikings Week 17 game vs. the Packers at Lambeau Field.

O'Connell said he'll also be "taking a look at the numbers" with Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and potentially bolstering the line from outside the building.

"We'll keep you guys posted with all of that, but it's definitely something we're talking about," he noted.

For now, the Vikings do have Josh Sokol and Kyle Hinton on the team's practice squad. Hinton was elevated and active for Sunday's game but did not see any snaps on offense.

"Josh Sokol has been taking a lot of those [center] reps on the scout team. We'll take a look at whether it's [him or] Hinton," O'Connell said. "All of it will be [determined by] guys' comfort level with snaps and snap counts and being able to make the calls."

He emphasized that because Minnesota's offensive system asks a lot of its center, it's more than just sliding guys around.

"As we hopefully do get Garrett Bradbury back or find some, hopefully find ourselves getting Blake [Brandel] back at some point, those numbers, it seems like we're being ultimately stressed right now because we are," O'Connell said. "[But] we've got some good depth there, and we'll look to probably add, as well."

Vikings receiver K.J. Osborn also spoke with media members via videoconference, and he was asked about having to game-plan without O'Neill or Schlottmann – and with Bradbury remaining a question mark.

Osborn maintained the team's "next-man-up" mantra.

"We believe in everybody that we have. Obviously, this is very unfortunate, and hopefully those guys can get back as soon as possible, but we have to roll with what we have," Osborn said. "We trust everybody in this locker room – that's why they're in this locker room. That when their time is up, they'll come up and they'll be big for us down the stretch."

Defensive tackle Harrison Phillips echoed Osborn's belief in the squad while also emphasizing the "human" side of teammates being sidelined.

"I don't think [everybody] understands how devastating that is on us as players," said Phillips, who suffered a torn ACL during his time in Buffalo. "I mean, it is terrible. The year I was on IR was probably the worst year on my life. Depression, not contributing to the team, how close we are and what we're building right now.

"When you see those things, it brings you to a tough place. So the first thing is, I'm praying for those guys and hoping I can be whatever support I can," Phillips continued. "And then, yeah, on the Xs and Os side … Luckily [offensive line coach Chris Kuper] has had these guys going up against me all year as scout players, giving me looks, and I can tell you they're good players."

On the ground game

Any offensive line adjustments certainly can impact the pass and run game, and O'Connell acknowledged the need for improvement by Minnesota. On the ground, Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison each were limited by the Packers to fewer than 40 yards.

O'Connell mentioned the "moving parts" over the past several weeks, including when left tackle Christian Darrisaw missed time with a concussion.

"It's just been something where it's been the consistency – you always take for granted those five guys taking snaps together, both in the run and pass game," O'Connell said. "And just the moving parts of snap counts, especially at the center position. The things you sometimes take advantage [of] to execute and operate at a high level. Even pre-snap, the communication, targeting, all those things.

"Some of the things that contributed to the lack of consistency there were things I think we can fix. But the moral of the story is, we've got to find a way to get our running game going regardless of who's in there, regardless of who's blocking on the edge," O'Connell continued. "The scheme just needs to be sound, and we've got to be able to have hats on hats, have movement and try to give Dalvin and Alexander some space to get going early on in football games."

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