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Monday Morning Mailbag: Elflein's New Role & Jefferson's Versatility at WR

Do you have a comment or question? Send it to the Mailbag! Every Monday we'll post several comments and/or questions as part of the Monday Morning Mailbag. Although we can't post every comment or question, we will reply to every question submitted.

Click here to submit a comment or question to the Mailbag. Remember to include your name and town on the email. The questions below have been edited for clarity.

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The key to a championship team is their offensive line. Rick Dennison gets them for a second year. They are young and athletic. How are they progressing? Who is standing out? Does Kyle Hinton have a chance to make the team?

— Gerald Goblirsch

With all the talk about OL positions being "up for grabs" and an "open competition" (especially at the guard spots), why is Pat Elflein being given an automatic starting spot yet again? … What is the real reason they don't give anyone a real chance to unseat him? Do we not have anyone with enough potential?

— Tom in Alta Loma, California

We'll begin by combining these questions since they both pertain to the offensive line. To start, the line looked fairly good in the first week of padded practices.

I wrote about that group over the weekend, but there are three players — left tackle Riley Reiff, center Garrett Bradbury and right tackle Brian O'Neill — who are locked into their same starting spots from the 2019 season.

In the link above, I looked at the starting left guard competition, which has been between Dakota Dozier and Aviante Collins so far. That duo has split reps with the first-team for all of the practices we have been able to see so far.

Ezra Cleveland, who played left tackle at Boise State, has worked with the second team at left guard. He seems to be progressing nicely in the early stages of camp. Perhaps he's an option at left guard down the road, but Collins and Dozier appear to be the ones in the mix to start for now.

Hinton has been the third-team right guard for the entirety of camp so far. He's a former Division II player likely getting adjusted to the speed at the NFL level, but the team is high on his athleticism for sure.

As for Elflein, here is a possible explanation for how the team views him: he was really good as a rookie center, but injuries hampered his progression in 2018. When he switched to left guard in 2019, he wasn't entirely comfortable over there and had an up-and-down season.

Everyone involved in the decision to move him to right guard — Elflein, Dennison, Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak, Head Coach Mike Zimmer, etc. — believes he is more comfortable on the right side, where he played 25 games at Ohio State.

We'll see how he fares as the season gets going, but Kubiak and Dennison have a proven track record with the ability to develop linemen.

Where do you suppose Justin Jefferson will play this year?

— Michael Dowse

Good question, Michael. From the way Kubiak has sounded in the early part of training camp, Jefferson will be moved around between the slot and as an outside receiver this season.

Kubiak emphasized that while he is teaching Jefferson multiple spots in the offense, he also wants to put the rookie in positions where he creates a mismatch for the opposing defense. Also, keep in mind that Adam Thielen also thrives in the slot, and outside, so perhaps those two will be interchangeable on the field once the season gets going.

Throw in Bisi Johnson, who has had a strong camp so far, and the Vikings have a handful of smart yet versatile wide receivers to get open for Kirk Cousins.

We all can agree Adam Thielen is an outstanding NFL wide receiver. It is my opinion that we wasted one or two good years of his career. We have a free agent, Dan Chisena, he did not play that much college football. If you watch his college tape and high school tape the guy has a nose for the football and tracks it beautifully on long passes. Kirk Cousins thrives throwing the long ball.

Cris Carter said before the draft the Vikings need speed at wide receiver. This definitely is the year of rookies stepping up to the plate for Vikings. … Chisena should make the team on special teams and [get] one deep pass every game. The Vikings are so high on Dantzler, who has shut down Adam Thielen repeatedly. Dan Chisena on his opportunity against Dantzler did a double move and scored a 20-yard touchdown. I am just concerned about how Coach Zimmer is nervous about using rookies. Well, this year he has no choice, and Dan Chisena is already a star. Use him to totally to stun the Packers on the deep ball.

— John Farmer

A lot to unpack here from John. Chisena has generally done well at camp so far. He certainly has the speed John mentioned, but he has had a few noticeable drops, one of which came in the end zone.

But I'm not sure I agree with having him on the active roster just for one deep ball a game though. Opposing teams would likely pick up on that pretty quickly and sniff it out by the second or third try.

If Chisena doesn't make the 53-man roster, he might be a candidate for the practice squad in 2020, which has expanded to 16 players. He excelled on special teams at Penn State, and we'll see how he does in practice when those drills start to ramp up.

And a quick note on Dantzler while we're here, he was a bright spot in the first week of padded practices. But he certainly has not shut down Adam Thielen on a repeated basis. Yes, Dantzler has made a few plays here, but Thielen has been far and away the team's best wide receiver in camp, which is to be expected.

I'd also argue against the notion that Zimmer is afraid of using rookies. Look at how much Garrett Bradbury, Alexander Mattison, Irv Smith, Jr., played on offense in 2019, as well as Kris Boyd and Austin Cutting on special teams. The Vikings will throw a bunch of young rookies into the fire this season, and the team is on board with that.