In the days leading up to 2014 Verizon Vikings Training Camp, vikings.com will take a position-by-position preview of the roster.
The Vikings will do something in 2014 that every offense would love to do every year – return all five starters along the offensive line. That kind of continuity can be good for an offensive line, provided each of the five returning starters has earned his spot in the lineup.
Rest assured, those who line up as starters in Week 1 of the season will indeed have earned their jobs because the Vikings have brought to Mankato several players who will challenge the incumbents for their jobs.
Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt have a strong hold on starter jobs at left tackle and right tackle, respectively. Pushing and providing depth behind those two will be returning Vikings Kevin Murphy and Mike Remmers, and undrafted rookies Pierce Burton, Matt Hall and Antonio Richardson. Two to watch are Murphy and Richardson, who both saw action with the first team when Kalil wasn't able to practice this offseason.
At offensive guard, Brandon Fusco and Charlie Johnson enter camp as starters at right guard and left guard, respectively. Fusco has developed nicely since the Vikings selected him in the sixth round of the 2011 draft out of Slippery Rock, while Johnson brings a veteran presence as well as versatility; he has started at both left guard and left tackle as a member of the Vikings. But this is where the competition will get the hottest in Mankato. Vladimir Ducasse signed as a free agent and David Yankey, a four-year starter at Stanford, was drafted in the fifth round. Expect both of them to push hard for a starting job, as well as second-year player Jeff Baca and 2014 undrafted free agent Austin Wentworth.
At center, the Vikings offensive line is anchored by seven-year veteran and 2013 Community Man of the Year John Sullivan. He's looked at as a leader, not just for the offensive line but by the entire team. Another veteran, Joe Berger, and undrafted rookie Zac Kerin are also on the roster listed as centers, so they will be there to push Sullivan and provide depth. More so for Berger, though, his value is the fact that he can be relied upon to play three positions in a pinch – center along with both left guard and right guard.
Yes, the Vikings return all five starters along the offensive line. But that doesn't mean this group isn't one to watch in camp. Far from it, actually. Baca, Wentworth and Yankey bear monitoring, as do all of the challengers in this group. Evaluating offensive linemen is tough during the offseason program because of contact restrictions set forth by the Collective Bargaining Agreement, so you can be sure Vikings coaches and scouts are looking forward to the next few weeks at camp in Mankato.