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Gary Kubiak Details Vikings Initial Approach for 2020 Offensive Line

EAGAN, Minn. — It's August, which means the annual focus is on the state of the Vikings offensive line.

One of the biggest questions of Verizon Vikings Training Camp is how the starting five will shake out, but Vikings Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak offered an inside look at that position Wednesday during a video chat with Twin Cities media members.

The biggest revelation from Kubiak is that the four returning starters from 2019 — left tackle Riley Reiff, left guard Pat Elflein, center Garrett Bradbury and right tackle Brian O'Neill — have opened 2020 in the same spots as camp begins ramping up.

"We have four of those guys back so we go right back with them," Kubiak said. "As we line up today, we have four of our five back and somebody will end up playing the other guard position."

"We've got four of those guys back, and it shows when we go to walk-through," Kubiak later added. "Those guys have been playing together, working together."

There has been some chatter since the Vikings drafted Boise State tackle Ezra Cleveland in the second round in April, with some even questioning if that would mean a potential move to guard for Reiff.

But Kubiak reiterated that Reiff is at left tackle, where he has made 43 starts for the Vikings since joining the organization as a free agent before the 2017 season.

"No," Kubiak said when asked about possibly moving Reiff to guard. "I think Riley played really well for us last year. I think we can do some things offensively and me as a play caller to help all our players and help Riley more, from that standpoint.

"I'm a big Riley Reiff fan. I love him as a person, a player and a leader on our team. Nobody comes here more ready to work than Riley. It showed," Kubiak added. "We haven't seen these guys, but watching him walk in, you can see his detail. Expecting Riley to have a great year."

Kubiak also has plenty of faith in the other tackle spot, where O'Neill took a leap forward in his sophomore season. Kubiak expects another jump out of the 2018 second-round pick.

"The first thing I see with him when I walked in the building this year, I see confidence," Kubiak said. "Young player last year. I see extreme confidence, knows exactly what we're doing, why we're doing it and has great ideas as a player.

"He's a very bright player, so when guys are going to become Pro Bowlers and great players you see them take huge steps from Year 1 to 2, 2 to 3, and you're watching that progression go with Brian," Kubiak added. "We're very happy to have Brian on our team. I think he's going to become a leader as well."

As for the interior of the line, Kubiak noted that two of those three positions will be filled by the same players that held those roles in 2019.

Elflein had ups and downs over his first 15 career starts at left guard, but he is now the second-most-experienced lineman with 42 career starts. Bradbury, a 2019 first-rounder, started all 16 contests (plus both postseason games) and could be primed for a similar leap like O'Neill made from Year 1 to Year 2.

That leaves Minnesota's right guard spot, where Kubiak said the group of Dakota Dozier, Aviante Collins and Ezra Cleveland are the focal point as of now.

Dozier made three starts at right guard in 2020 with the four returning starters, while Collins has played in five career games along the line. Cleveland received First-Team All-Mountain West honors at left tackle in his final two seasons at Boise State.

Kubiak said he's intrigued at how that battle will shake out over the course of camp.

"We've got a lot of good football players there. We've got to let them go compete," Kubiak said. "Losing Josh [Kline, who made 13 starts at right guard], who played well for us naturally opens up a spot, but I don't get too consumed with just a spot, you know what I mean?

"We feel good about our depth. Let's start practicing football, let's start doing the things that we normally do, which is come in here in about four or five days, and those things will take care of themselves," Kubiak added. "I like our guys. We've got a lot of smart guys that play really hard, and it's our job as coaches to get them in the right spot so they can be successful."

While Dozier and Collins have experience at guard, Cleveland does not. But Kubiak said he has no qualms about throwing him into the fire at a new spot early on.

"The nice thing is we think he has flexibility. We know he's played tackle for a long time," Kubiak said. "Through the walk-through period, we're working him at guard right now, so he gets [second-team] reps next to Blake [Brandel] as they work together in the young group, and we'll go from there.

"We're going to take it a day at a time, but he's a very bright player, and we felt like we should start somewhere where he hasn't had many reps, make sure he gets them there," Kubiak added. "We know he has a comfort zone to go back outside. We'll settle him down probably after about a week, and we'll take a look at exactly where we think he should be and what gives him the best chance to help our team."

If Cleveland does win the starting right guard job, he'll line up next to O'Neill, who has been impressed by the rookie to this point.

"I just know from my experiences with him so far, in virtual meetings and in the building so far, I can tell he's locked in mentally," O'Neill said. "I'd say he's definitely in better shape physically than I was at this time, coming in a couple years ago. Really excited about what he can bring to us, and I'll help him as much as possible."

As camp evolves and the line gets sorted out, the onus will be on Kubiak and Vikings offensive line coach/run game coordinator Rick Dennison to help get that group ready to go for the Week 1 opener against Green Bay.

But given their long-standing relationship — Kubiak called Dennison "the best teacher I've ever been around as a coach" on Wednesday — the two will be up to the task.

"We've got to get all those things working in the right direction," Kubiak said. "But the competitiveness that's going on within the group is going to make us better.

"We'll see what happens but it's going to be a very competitive nature through the course of camp," Kubiak later added. "We have six weeks until we play a game and a lot to get done."