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Vikings Assessing Offensive Line After 1st Week of Pads

EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings have had both stability and competition on the offensive line in the first week of padded practices, but the starting five could be cemented soon.

"I'm sure we're going to have a lot of meetings as we head into the weekend," Vikings Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubaik said Thursday. "This will be five days straight for us, six [Friday] with a big padded practice, so I'm sure there will be a lot of meetings this weekend.

"I think that we have a pretty good feel for our people. We need to sit down as a group, listen, see what our defensive guys think about our guys up front," Kubiak added. "Listen to [Vikings offensive line coach] Rick [Dennison], listen to [Vikings assistant offensive line coach Phil [Rauscher]. So, there's a lot of conversations to be had, but everybody's working really hard, doing their job, and those are tough decisions that eventually we'll have to make, but the guys are doing a good job."

Minnesota returns four of five starters from a season ago, and it appears that quartet is in line to start again.

Riley Reiff and Brian O'Neill are manning the tackle spots, while center Garrett Bradbury appears ready for a leap in Year 2.

Pat Elflein played left guard last season after two at center, but has switched to right guard after the departure of Josh Kline.

That means the only open spot has been at left guard, where Dakota Dozier and Aviante Collins have split reps with the first-team offense. Rookie Ezra Cleveland, a tackle at Boise State, has been primarily the second-team left guard.

Because Reiff, Bradbury and O'Neill will resume their starting spots from a season ago, we'll focus on the two guard spots below.

Here is a closer look at Elflein, who is changing positions for a second time in as many seasons, along with Dozier, Collins and Cleveland on the left side.

Pat Elflein

Elflein has endured a bit of an up-and-down ride since being a third-round pick in 2017. He was solid as a rookie at center, but he left the NFC title game early with multiple injuries, including a broken ankle.

He worked his way back to start 13 games at center in 2018, but recently said it took him a while to feel fully comfortable on the field.

Elflein then switched to left guard for the 2019 season when Minnesota drafted Bradbury in the first round. He played 921 offensive snaps in 2019, which was 89.94 percent of total offensive snaps.

Now, Elflein has moved to right guard, a spot where he played 25 games in college at Ohio State.

View photos of Vikings players from Verizon Vikings Training Camp practice at TCO Performance Center.

"It went into everything for us to make that decision," Kubiak said. "There were no reps to go off of that this year, so I think we're looking at the big picture. Pat's a good player. He had a good year.

"Obviously, we're going to have to fill the [right] guard spot. Rick and I sat down; Rick talked to Pat. Just felt like this was the best move for us to make right now, and go get competitive," Kubiak added. "So, let's see what happens, but I think Pat's very comfortable there, and he's a good football player, works his tail off."

Added Elflein: "It was a group decision between myself and the coaches and how everything was playing out. We're just trying to get the best five guys on the field. That's why versatility is important."

Elflein has been entrenched as the first-team right guard since camp has opened, with Dru Samia getting second-team reps.

Elflein recently told the Twin Cities media he's on board with another position switch.

"I feel good. I'm excited to compete. Versatility is a big thing in this league, so being able to play multiple positions will be good," Elflein said. "I'm just excited to get out there and be able to compete at the right guard spot."

Dakota Dozier

Dozier was added as a free agent during the 2019 offseason, as he spent the 2018 season with the Jets — where Dennison was the offensive line coach/run game coordinator.

Zimmer said Dozier's history with Dennison was a factor in signing him in 2019, and then re-signing him in March of 2020.

"It definitely helps," Zimmer said. "Rico being able to see [Dozier] for a year and be in meeting rooms with him and all those types of things was one of the reasons we were interested in getting him here."

Dozier started four games in 2019, with three of them coming at right guard. He played 362 total offensive snaps, which accounted for 35.55 percent of total offensive snaps.

Zimmer and Kubiak both had high praise for how Dozier handles himself on and off the field for the organization.

"I really just think Dakota's at a very good place in his life and his career," Kubiak said. "He's always been a good player, trying to battle to become a starter. He started [four] games for us last year … [and we] played some good football when Dakota was in there.

"So, I just think Dakota's at a point in his career, he's a guy who's battled and battled and battled, and he knows he can do it, and he's out there every day really doing a hell of a job. He plays a lot of different positions," Kubiak added. "There are days when Dakota goes with our 1s, our 2s, and I look up and our 3s are in there, and he's still in there, so Dakota's getting his work in and wanting to help this team win, and he's heading the right direction."

Added Zimmer: "Well, Dakota, when he had the opportunities, I thought he played well. He was able to swing some and do different things in there. He's a very conscientious person. He's got toughness. Very smart, good in the run game, understands where all the leverage is in the passing game."

Aviante Collins

Collins joined the team as an undrafted free agent in the spring of 2017, appearing in four games before an injury cost him the entire 2018 season.

Collins was bitten by the injury bug again in training camp a year ago, as an elbow injury cost him the first half of the season.

He worked his way back to play in two games in 2019, with the second one being a Week 17 home game against Chicago.

With Minnesota resting most of its offensive starters, Collins started his first-career game, splitting time at left tackle and left guard. He played 49 offensive snaps in that game.

Collins, who was a tackle coming out of TCU, has now shifted almost exclusively to guard in the battle with Dozier.

Kubiak provided an update on Collins' status on a video call with the media.

"AC was working at tackle last year and got hurt at about this stage of camp and missed a lot of time," Kubiak said. "But he's very athletic. Trying to settle him down a little bit, get him in the mix.

"We're just trying to create a really competitive environment up front and see who steps to the forefront," Kubiak said. "AC Is a big part of that, so we'll see what happens."

Ezra Cleveland

Cleveland was Minnesota's second-round selection out of Boise State, where he was a two-time All-Mountain West honoree at left tackle.

But the Vikings have shifted him a spot over, as he has been the second-team left guard for every practice thus far.

Cleveland said he's happy to help the team in any way he can and noted there hasn't been a major transition to guard.

"Fortunately for me, I've been working on the left side of the line for three years at Boise," Cleveland said. "Only moving over one spot, it's a big move from tackle to guard but it's on the same side of the line so the footwork and everything is kind of the same.

"Technically, the position change isn't really that drastic. You still have to do all the same combinations and stuff, it's just different words," Cleveland added. "It's not that big of a deal. Just working to get better."

Zimmer said he has seen some ups and downs from the rookie in his first week of padded practices, but noted that his potential for progression is there.

"Well, he's very athletic and he seems to be understanding the scheme," Zimmer said. "Part of it with the offensive line is working together all the time. I think he's understanding where his help is a little bit more.

"There's still obviously some things he has to work on, but he is athletic and has some toughness and I think he's got some smarts," Zimmer added. "Those are good qualities to have, but he does have to improve his technique."