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Night of Firsts on Vikings O-Line: Isidora at C, Jones Makes Debut

Danny Isidora had never played center, but he lined up in front of Trevor Siemian for an entire half Thursday night.

Isidora started at center and was bracketed by Brett Jones – whom the Vikings acquired via trade on Sunday – and Colby Gossett at left and right guard, respectively. Aviante Collins started at left tackle, and rookie Brian O’Neill started at right.

“It went good,” Isidora said after the game. “I mean, there's some stuff I can fix and stuff I've got to work on. I have to watch the film and see what I can do better, but for the first time, I felt all right.”

The 2017 fifth-round draft pick started Minnesota’s first two preseason games at right guard, and he played there again as a reserve against the Seahawks last week.

Isidora didn’t play center at Miami, in high school or even at the youth level. But when coaches approached him during the week and wanted him to take some reps there during practice, he was all for it.

“I felt comfortable with the plays, I know the plays, so it was just really a matter of snapping the ball and working at center,” Isidora said. “I was like, ‘All right, let’s go. Let’s do it.’

“I was talking to all the centers, just asking them certain techniques and stuff like that,” Isidora said of his teammates. “They were telling me little stuff here and there. That helped me out a little bit.”

Siemian was impressed by Isidora’s first go at center.

“He did great. He’s a smart, smart guy,” Siemian said. “He was solid with all the calls and everything, so we didn’t miss a beat there.”

Jones also spoke highly of his new teammate and the way he stepped in and embraced the challenge of a new position.

Jones most recently played center for the Giants, starting 12 games there last season, but he has also played guard at the NFL level. He pointed out that switching back and forth between the two isn’t a cakewalk.

“Danny did a really good job,” Jones said. “It's tough, you know, when you make that transition from guard to center or center to guard. It's not as easy as people make it out to be, and he did a good job communicating and getting us on the right track.”

Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman joined “Voice of the Vikings” Paul Allen and Pete Bercich in the broadcast booth for the entire third quarter. As part of the Vikings #Minnesocial initiative, Spielman answered questions submitted by fans via social media in addition to weighing in on additional topics.

When asked about starting Isidora at center, Spielman answered that it’s a matter of “just looking at all these different combinations” on the offensive line.

Spielman emphasized that while it’s been challenging for the unit to be without Pat Elflein, who is on the Physically Unable to Perform list, and initial backup center Nick Easton, who underwent neck surgery and was placed on Injured Reserve, coaches have been able to evaluate young players who have stepped up and been moved around.

“Especially when we had all the injuries up front through most of the preseason, guys got a chance to play different positions,” Spielman said. “The more versatility these guys show up front, the more value they have for us. Because you’re going to dress seven guys on game day, so those two backups have to be able to swing at almost every position.”

The Vikings switched up the line combination for the second half, sliding Collins to left guard, Jones to center and Isidora back to right guard. Storm Norton came in at left tackle, and O’Neill stayed on the right side.

Considering that Jones had just two full practices in Purple after a whirlwind trade, the Canada native was pleased with his first outing.

“There were some good things. I was able to get out there, get my feet wet in the playbook and get some real live action,” Jones said. “It was great hearing the calls live, hearing the quarterback's cadence and things like that.

“Definitely, I have some things I've got to work on,” Jones added. “But I think it was positive that I was able to get out there and do some good things, and I had a lot of fun doing it.”

Spielman also addressed the addition of Jones during the broadcast, highlighting the 29-year-old’s versatility. The Vikings were looking to increase their depth up front; besides appreciating Jones’ skill set, Spielman liked that he was learning in New York under Giants Head Coach Pat Shurmur, who served as Minnesota’s offensive coordinator in 2017.

“You know, we’ll have to make a determination on Pat Elflein and where he’s at as we go forward,” Spielman said. “But just watching [Brett] in this first preseason game, for us, he came in very smart, very intelligent, already knew all the runs – because there’s a little carryover from Pat Shurmur’s offense – and you see what kind of strength and power he has.

“He’s a shorter guy, but he has strength and power to move the pile,” Spielman added.

As for Head Coach Mike Zimmer’s evaluation of the offensive line combinations tested out Thursday?

He’ll have to get back to you after reviewing the tape.

“It was hard for me to tell. I was trying to look at it, but I couldn't give you an honest assessment,” Zimmer admitted during his postgame press conference. “I was trying to watch [Isidora] when he was playing center, and I was trying to watch Jones, but you know, everybody looks at the receivers and the quarterback and things, just like me.”

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