EAGAN, Minn. — With the 2021 NFL Draft set to begin four weeks from today, it has become clear that one area of the Vikings roster is likely high atop Minnesota's priority list.
And it's a position group that usually draws scrutiny no matter the year.
Yes, we're talking about the Vikings offensive line.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer on Wednesday made his first offseason comments since early January and noted that the offensive line is still in flux. But with the calendar just having flipped to April, there is also time to get it figured out.
"Our offense has been pretty darn good. They're [fourth] in the league last year [in yards per game at 393.3]," Zimmer said. "We do have some holes, yeah, that we'll fill, but we've still got time to do that.
"There's still a lot of players out there right now, and there will be some out there in the draft," Zimmer added.
The Vikings have made four moves this offseason that affect the offensive line.
The first was the release of left tackle Riley Reiff, a move that saved a large chunk of money but also saw the team's most experienced lineman leave. Minnesota also brought back tackle Rashod Hill, swung a trade for interior lineman Mason Cole and re-signed Dakota Dozier earlier this week.
Zimmer said Wednesday there are a handful of internal options to replace Reiff.
"At this point, we've got Rashod Hill back, we've got [Olisaemeka] Udoh back, we've got [Brian] O'Neill back, we've got [Ezra] Cleveland," Zimmer said. "So, we'll be able to take care of those situations. All of those guys are good players, and we'll continue to figure it out and go from there."
Perhaps the biggest piece of the offensive line puzzle is Cleveland, a 2020 second-round pick who started nine games at right guard as a rookie. But he was also a two-time, all-conference left tackle at Boise State and has the ability to switch positions if needed.
Zimmer was asked where Cleveland fits into the team's plans as of now, and the coach referenced that Minnesota's depth chart is essentially on an incomplete white board at the moment.
"Well, right now he's right guard," Zimmer said. "But all those things can change depending on what happens the rest of the way in free agency and what else happens in the draft.
"We don't know what's going to happen in those places, and obviously there's other positions that we can draft. I'm sure at some point we're going to try and address all those things," Zimmer added. "I think what we've done in free agency so far has allowed us to be able to take the best player available, wherever he is."
While Cleveland could change positions, Hill is also a candidate at either tackle spot. So, too, is O'Neill, who has only played right tackle in his three seasons in Purple.
Perhaps the only position set solidly in stone right now on the Vikings offensive line is Garrett Bradbury at center.
But as Zimmer said multiple times Wednesday, there is still time to get the other pieces sorted out.
Early praise for Kubiak
Zimmer compared the current Vikings offensive coordinator to a formers one on Wednesday.
Klint Kubiak is entering his first season in that role after spending the past two seasons as Minnesota's quarterbacks coach.
The 34-year-old is good friends with Browns Head Coach Kevin Stefanski, who was the Vikings OC for 19 total games in 2018 and 2019. Stefanski was 36 when he took over play-calling duties for the final three games in 2018.
Zimmer noted Wednesday that he has full confidence in Kubiak entering the 2021 season.
"He's ready for it. Somebody was asking me about that today," Zimmer said. "Klint, he's a lot like how Kevin was when he was there. He's very detailed. He brings up the subject that they want to discuss.
"He'll have his opinions. He'll listen to the other guys' opinions in the room and then kind of go from there. He's done a good job," Zimmer added. "Everybody's going to wonder what it's going to be like when you're a first-time play caller, but at the end of the day every one of us was always a first-time play caller at one point."
Kubiak is taking over the role held by his father, Gary Kubiak, in 2020.
Vikings have options behind Cousins
Kirk Cousins is unquestionably entrenched as the Vikings starting quarterback as he enters his fourth season in Minnesota.
He's had two different backups behind him in since he arrived, including Sean Mannion for the past two seasons.
But with Mannion still a free agent, Zimmer was asked who would fill that spot in 2021.
Mannion is still an option, of course, as are youngsters Jake Browning and Nate Stanley.
"Well, all those are options. We really like Browning and Stanley," Zimmer said. "Stanley's a big, big strong-armed kid. Browning's been great the two years that he's been here.
"Sean's been outstanding in the room," Zimmer added. "So, again, without saying, 'Hey, we're going to do this or that,' there's a lot of options there, I believe."
Browning was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Washington in the spring of 2019. He's spent the past two years on the Vikings practice squad.
Stanley was a seventh-round pick out of Iowa in 2020. He was on the practice squad in 2020 but, due to no preseason games, never saw the field.
Mannion has made one start in two seasons but has drawn heaps of praise from Cousins and others for his strong ability to be a sounding board on the sideline and in meetings.