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Notebook: Vikings Could Bolster O-Line Via Free Agency or Draft

INDIANAPOLIS — The numbers weren't pretty for the Vikings offensive line last season.

Minnesota used 12 linemen in all, had eight different starting combinations and saw five different players line up at left tackle.

The Vikings began reshaping the unit by releasing guards Brandon Fusco and Mike Harris a few weeks ago, but will now look to free agency and the draft to bolster the line. 

Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman spoke to reporters Wednesday from the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, and gave his input on what the Vikings could be thinking with their approach to improving the offensive line.

"You weigh in where the strength of free agency is against where the strength of the draft is. If you think that, where you're selecting, you can get a player or two that's going to fall that you'd be interested in, then you wait," Spielman said. "If you think that particular position is better to attack in free agency because it's not as available where you're going to be picking in the draft, then you look to free agency.

"That's part of putting the whole thing in place. Even in free agency, you can go ahead and have a plan, but you don't control what happens either. The market goes way out of whack, and it's overinflated … so there's a lot of things to go over," Spielman added. "If you don't want to do that, then you attack it the other way. You just go into this having a specific plan in place, but also you have to have Plan B and C in place as well."

The Vikings have five picks between the second and fourth rounds, selections Spielman said could very well be used to enhance the offensive line.

"There is some depth in the class, especially in the rounds we are picking," Spielman said. "Having those extra picks this year in the third and fourth rounds will be a key benefit for us in the draft.

"I think with the depth of the draft in general, there will be some pretty good players that will be pushed down our way because of the talent coming out in this year's draft," he added.

Trae's third year

Vikings cornerback Trae Waynes went from special teams standout in 2015 to a solid defensive contributor last season.

The progression has Spielman excited to see what steps the former first-round pick takes in 2017.

Spielman said Thursday that Waynes is working toward getting to the point where he's simply playing and not thinking too much.

"From his first year to his second year, I thought he made tremendous strides," Spielman said. "Especially on the defensive side of the ball at those positions, when they come in, they're getting taught not only the scheme, but how to play technique in the scheme.

"A lot of the stuff they got away with in college, you're not going to get away with at this level. Every young guy is different, but they come to a point where they can just go out and play and not have to think about the technique or this play we're calling on defense," Spielman said. "I think Trae made tremendous strides. You saw at the end of his rookie season and then this year, he continued where he's making plays on the ball and helped us win games this year."

Waynes had three interceptions last season, which was second on the team.

View the best images of LB Eric Kendricks from the 2016 season.

A move for Kendricks?

Eric Kendricks has led the Vikings in tackles the past two seasons from the middle linebacker spot where he made his first start in Week 4 at Denver in 2015. He's also shown an ability to cover passing threats.

Spielman was asked whether Kendricks might incorporate his versatility by moving to an outside linebacker spot in 2017.

"I would defer that to Coach Zimmer," Spielman said. "He played very well at middle linebacker but has the capability to play both. 

"I think those are coaches' decisions to put the best players on the field," Spielman added. "If we have another player that's a 'Mike' linebacker, does that affect Kendricks? He's been the man in the middle for us, and he's played very well for his two years in the league."

The philosophy on quarterbacks

The Vikings have three quarterbacks under contract for the upcoming season in Sam Bradford, Teddy Bridgewater and Taylor Heinicke.

Bradford is coming off a strong season in which he threw for 3,877 yards and set an NFL record for completion percentage at 71.6. Bridgewater is rehabbing from an August knee injury. Heinicke's second season was impacted when he missed all of training camp and the preseason after an off-field injury.

Some NFL teams believe that they should draft a quarterback each year, just to see if one sticks. While the Vikings haven't done that of late, Spielman hinted that might change this year.

"Maybe that trend changes a little bit," Spielman said. "We were very excited about Heinicke and where he was coming. I didn't anticipate him putting his foot through his door and missing the preseason.

"That's another area we have to look at because he missed all that time in the preseason and training camp … that's probably the most valuable time for a young quarterback," Spielman added. "Right now we have three guys under contract, and one is still rehabbing. But we'll look (at the position)."

But simply selecting a quarterback is no easy task, Spielman said. There are plenty of factors that go into picking a player for the most important position on the team.

"Very tough position to evaluate. You try to do everything you can and put all the tools in place and try to make the best decisions that you can," Spielman said. 

When the Vikings drafted Bridgewater in the first round in 2014, for example, Spielman said the organization held multiple meetings with the former Louisville product.

"I think, you know, you start to process here, but we met with Teddy probably five or six times, and that's important especially at that position," Spielman said. "The coaches have to be heavily involved with that, and our scouts are heavily involved with our coaches, myself and Coach Zimmer on evaluating all of these positions because they have to take a vested interest in it, as well."

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