Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer is a fan of the newest Vikings offensive lineman, and not just because he likes to get outside and go hunting and fishing.
No, Zimmer hopes that guard Josh Kline — signed by the Vikings last week — helps provide a measure of stability on a unit that has been up and down in recent seasons.
"He's a guy that's played a lot of games, started a lot of games," Zimmer said Tuesday from Phoenix at the Annual League Meeting. "I had a good visit with him.
"He's an outdoorsman, loves all that stuff, so I think that was a good fit," Zimmer said. "He's got very good feet, athletic. I think he's going to fit in well."
Zimmer said Kline fits the mold of linemen that Vikings Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski is looking for.
"Our guys have to be athletic," Zimmer said. "They have to have really good body control and balance, and then obviously they've got to be tough and physical and those things. We're looking for guys with a certain skill set to do what we want them to do."
Of course, it helps that the veteran has started 46 straight games, the longest active streak among players at his position.
The Vikings have had a correlation between team success and offensive line play in recent years. When the unit was solid, such as in 2017, Minnesota went 13-3 and won the NFC North.
But the Vikings struggled in 2016 and 2018 with a 16-15-1 combined record as the line dealt with injuries and inconsistent play.
Zimmer said Tuesday that having the same quintet for an entire 16-game season — something that last happened in 2015 — would be a boon for his offense. Since the start of the 2016 season, the Vikings have started 17 different linemen.
Only one of them, former guard Mike Remmers in 2018, has played an entire 16-game season at the same position.
"Well, we've had a lot of different guys play on the offensive line, and if we could get five guys to stay there for the year, that would obviously be big," Zimmer said.
But while Zimmer's hope is to get some continuity on the line, he did acknowledge Tuesday that the 2019 version could see some shuffling of positions of players that were on the roster in 2018.
When asked about the possibility of moving left tackle Riley Reiff to guard or switching 2018 rookie right tackle Brian O'Neill to the left side, Zimmer said the organization is exploring those options.
"Yeah, I think so. The only thing that does for us right now is give us a little bit of flexibility going into the draft," Zimmer said. "We've talked about all those scenarios, but I don't think we're definitely going to say, 'Yeah, you're going to do this, you're going to do that.'
"But I think both those guys (O'Neill and Reiff) have the ability to have some more flexibility," Zimmer added.
That could mean position changes for Reiff and/or O'Neill based on which direction the Vikings go in the 2019 NFL Draft, which is scheduled for April 25-27.
Zimmer said if a standout tackle or guard falls to the Vikings at any point in the draft, that could sway where Reiff and O'Neill end up.
"Right," Zimmer said before he delivered a trademark zing. "Or a defensive corner, because everybody wants us to take corners."
No matter what the combination is of Reiff, Kline, O'Neill, center Pat Elflein, a possible rookie and others, Zimmer said the Vikings will have plenty of time between spring practices and training camp to figure out the best group.
"Until you watch them practice and watch them do things, you don't know," Zimmer said about the possibility of Reiff playing guard. "Riley's a tough guy, he's smart, he's physical, and he's a great kid. He was a wrestler, so that helps being inside a little bit.
"Kline was a wrestler, and Elflein was a wrestler, so all those things help a little bit in there, just because things happen fast. But you really don't know until you put them out there and you take a look at them," Zimmer said. "I mean, since Riley's been here, we haven't said, 'Go in there and play guard for a couple plays and see what you look like.' We haven't done that, so that would be a new experiment. O'Neill's played left before, but he's pretty comfortable on the right side now, I think. So we'll just have to see."
No matter which five players the Vikings roll out in Week 1 of the 2019 season, Zimmer believes the unit — and his entire roster — will be motivated for a rebound season after a disappointing 8-7-1 campaign in 2018.
"I think we have to hit on some guys in the draft, but if we do, I think we're going to have a chance to be a good football team," Zimmer said. "I feel like we have to get that chip on our shoulder a little bit, though, be upset about what happened last year.
"I have to figure out a better way to handle [the next year after] when we have a successful season," Zimmer added. "I've been trying to figure out a lot of things that way, but we've got to have a successful season for me to try it."