EAGAN, Minn. — The NFL's 2020 season — the 101st in history — is scheduled to open a week from today in Kansas City, which means the Vikings season opener is 10 days out.
Plenty of players will play key roles for the Vikings, but some will be in the spotlight more than others, whether because of roster turnover or their own progression in recent years.
This is the final installment of a 10-part series about potential X-factors on the roster. Players featured could be primed for more playing time and opportunities to help the Vikings.
Rookies were excluded, as were veterans who have already cemented themselves as vital players on the Vikings.
Closing it out? Guard Dakota Dozier. Here's why he could be an X-factor in 2020:
— Third consecutive season with with Vikings offensive line coach Rick Dennison
— Made multiple starts during 2019
— Has increased confidence
Stat line: Four total starts (three at right guard; one at left guard). Played 362 offensive snaps; 35.55 percent of total offensive snaps.
Dozier joined the Vikings as a free agent in 2019 after spending his first four seasons with the Jets. Although he was new to the team, Dozier reunited in Minnesota with Dennison, who served as the Jets offensive line coach/run game coordinator in 2018.
"Coach Rico is awesome. I've really enjoyed getting to be with him, going into my third year now," Dozier said of Dennison. "Just the way he's able to teach [the game] and really breaks it down and lets you understand the concept [so] you're not trying to memorize a play, but you're actually learning it.
"He's really good at describing plays," Dozier continued. "I think of him as a teacher, and I'm able to grasp concepts really well from him. Across the board, I think all the guys in the room love how he explains things, and it helps us be on the same page."
Dozier demonstrated his grasp of the offense – and versatility – by making starts at right guard (Weeks 4, 6 and 11) for Josh Kline and left guard (Week 2) for Pat Elflein.
Vikings Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak said the team played "some good football" when Dozier stepped in last season.
"He's always been a good player, trying to battle to become a starter," Kubiak said.
Best Splash Play So Far
Offensive linemen are rarely involved in splash plays, so we'll reserve this section for an overall impressive offensive performance.
Dozier played all 70 snaps at right guard in Minnesota's 38-20 victory over Philadelphia at U.S. Bank Stadium in Week 6, a game in which the Vikings racked up 447 total yards of offense, the third-highest total of the season.
Dozier helped protect Kirk Cousins, who was sacked just once, as the quarterback threw for 333 yards and four touchdowns for a passer rating of 138.4.
He also helped pave the way for 122 rushing yards on the ground as the Vikings improved to 4-2 on the season.
View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of January 4, 2021.
The Vikings did not return Kline at right guard, instead moving Elflein to the right side and entering Verizon Vikings Training Camp with a vacancy at left.
Throughout most of camp, Dozier and Aviante Collins split reps at left guard with the 1s, each vying for the new starting role in 2020. After being more of a swing guy in 2019, Dozier said it's been nice to focus in on one position throughout the offseason program.
"It's definitely a little bit more freeing, being able to focus on one spot, primarily," he said. "It lets you really dive in to the intricacies of that spot, whereas when you're playing both sides or guard and tackle, you have to really focus on so many things it's harder to hold on to everything, so I'm really enjoying that ability just to get to know left guard. 'Let's go out there and do everything I can to be the left guard.' "
If Dozier does, in fact, earn the starting role, he will help anchor a line once again bookended by tackles Riley Reiff (left) and Brian O'Neill (right) and with Garrett Bradbury in his second year at center.
Kubiak wasn't the Vikings play-caller last year, but his heavy influence on the offense under Kevin Stefanski has helped smooth the transition into a system that will look largely similar this season.
Dozier is well-acquainted with the Vikings scheme and believes it's a good fit for his skill set.
"I've really enjoyed being in this zone scheme, especially this offense. You look across our offensive line, you see a lot of athletic guys who can run and move around," he said. "I definitely think that I fit that scheme very well, so I'm excited to go out there and do it."
Dennison noted that Dozier's confidence has risen since first arriving in Minnesota last spring.
"I think he feels very comfortable," Dennison said. "He's really solidified and done a very good job of working with the guys."
Kubiak also offered praise for Dozier.
"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," Kubiak said. "Dakota's getting his work in and wanting to help this team win, and he's heading the right direction."