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Lunchbreak: Sparano Optimistic About Improved Offensive Line

Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman and Head Coach Mike Zimmer weren't shy about their intentions to bolster the offensive line this past offseason.

Minnesota signed a pair of starting tackles in Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers, and also traded up to grab center Pat Elflein in the third-round of the 2017 NFL Draft.

The additions gave Vikings offensive line Tony Sparano reinforcements in his group, a unit that was battered by injuries and inconsistent play in 2016.

Chad Graff of the Pioneer Press recently chatted with Sparano about his optimism for the upcoming season.

Graff wrote:

Sparano, a coaching veteran of 35 football seasons, had never before seen an offensive line deal with the injuries that left an already overwhelmed offensive line scrambling a season ago. If there's anything more promising than the additions of two veteran linemen to the starting rotation, it's Sparano's confidence that he can't possibly be that unlucky two years in a row.

"It would be hard for me to imagine something like that happening again," he said. "I've never been involved in a season like that."

The Vikings used eight different starting combinations and had 12 different linemen play in 2016, five alone at left tackle.

The Vikings brass focused on enhancing the line, and Zimmer has taken a more hands-on approach to helping improve the unit.

Sparano's résumé as a two-time NFL head coach has earned him the ears of Zimmer and Spielman, who asked for his input when evaluating free agents. But it didn't take Sparano's urging for them to understand the need to improve the offensive line.

* The unit struggled in 2015, too, prompting Zimmer to hire Sparano in hopes of adding toughness. The two coaches know each other from three years under Bill Parcells in Dallas. So with Sparano hoping to instill confidence in an offensive line that has been the subject of frequent criticism, he invited Zimmer into their meetings this summer.*

"Having the head coach sit in there with all his experience telling them, 'This is what the linebacker is seeing,' that's kind of nice," Sparano said. "Some days, he may only say four words, but they're four important words."

Wilson eyeing role on special teams 

Some players have to make their mark on special teams before growing into a larger role down the road.

That's the mindset of Vikings linebacker Eric Wilson, an undrafted free agent out of the University of Cincinnati who is in his first training camp.

Andrew Krammer of the Star Tribune caught up with Wilson, who said he is in Mankato because he saw an opportunity to make a name for himself in the third phase of the game.

Krammer wrote:

Wilson's relationship with special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, built over the course of the draft process and a pre-draft visit to Winter Park, led the linebacker to Minnesota.

Only four college football defenders had more tackles per game than Wilson (10.8) last year for the Bearcats. However, the converted safety went undrafted and that's when he became a wanted man.

"You're going to compete wherever you go, but for me it was down to the Colts and Vikings," Wilson said. "But I felt more, not comfortable, but a better opportunity here with the Vikings."

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