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Monday Morning Mailbag: A Look at the Offensive Line & Jim Marshall's HOF Chances

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Hi Eric. I watched the Super Bowl … Tampa Bay's O-Line played great. KC struggled because of their O- line issues. I know the Vikings had a really good year offensively and the defense was the issue. That will change when Eric Kendricks, Anthony Barr, Danielle Hunter and Michael Pierce come back. And Cameron Dantzler, Jeff Gladney and hopefully Mike Hughes will be better. I think we need to be looking at guard in the draft or free agency. Kirk Cousins can only be better if he has time to throw. What are your thoughts?

— Ray Sparks

Thanks for starting us off, Ray. Count me among those who were surprised by the result of the game, but give credit to the Buccaneers for playing their best on the big stage.

View the best offensive line photos of the 2020 season from Vikings photographers.

And while Tampa Bay's defense was phenomenal, I also agreed with you and came away impressed by the Buccaneers offensive line. It helps that Tom Brady gets the ball out quickly, but that group held up very well against a strong Chiefs pass rush.

As I've mentioned in previous Mailbags, we know the Vikings offensive line is likely to look fairly similar in 2021 as it did in 2020. The main portion of that is the return of Brian O'Neill, Garrett Bradbury and Ezra Cleveland.

Riley Reiff has been a subject of speculation, but there's no doubt that his veteran leadership and consistent play is appreciated by the entire organization.

I do think that improving the offensive line as a whole could mean big things for the offense. If the trio of O'Neill, Bradbury and Cleveland each continue to improve and progress, that's a strong start.

And whether it's Reiff or Cleveland or a free agent or a high draft pick at left tackle, that will be an offseason storyline, too.

If Reiff stays at left tackle and Cleveland stays at right guard, there could be an opportunity to look at left guard where Dakota Dozier started all 16 games for the first time in his career. Dozier's contract is set to expire this offseason.

Regardless of the individuals, if the entire offensive line takes a step forward and can get to the mid-tier range in the league (think 12-17 range), that could mean Minnesota's offense went from good to great.

Keep in mind that the Vikings ranked fourth in yards per game (393.3) and were 11th overall with 26.9 points per game in 2020, and that was with an offensive line that had its ups and downs.

If the line can improve and be more consistency, that could only be a boon for players like Cousins, Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen and others.

View the best photos of Vikings rookie WR Justin Jefferson from the 2020 season.

When is Jim Marshall going to get into the Hall of Fame? The guy played in four Super Bowls to zero for Deacon Jones. He is in the Hall, and Jim Marshall is not … why? Sounds like having a Hollywood connection helps — at least it did for Jones.

— Paul Engleson in St. Paul

A great question from Paul, and one that I'm sure many Vikings fans have pondered over the years.

It's a travesty that Jim isn't in. He should be. Simple as that. He is still eligible as a candidate under the Senior Committee rules. The Senior Committee will soon begin evaluating candidates for the lone spot reserved for a former player for the 2022 class.

View photos of former Vikings defensive end and Ring of Honor member, Jim Marshall.

A quick aside: you all should be thankful that my colleague Craig Peters, the senior editor at Vikings.com, isn't responding to this because he'd furiously pound away at his keyboard for hours stating Jim's case.

I will say that I don't believe the number of Super Bowls someone appears in is a qualifier for their candidacy, but rather their overall resumé. And man, does Jim have a strong resumé.

To start, pun intended, the man made 270 consecutive starts in Purple. His total streak spanned 282 regular-season games played in a row from 1960 with Cleveland and 1961-79 with the Vikings, setting a league record that was later broken by Brett Favre.

If that sounds like a lot, it is. The current longest starts streak by a defensive end is 145 by Cameron Jordan. After that, Brandon Graham and Arik Armstead are tied at 48.

The Vikings Ring of Honor member ranks second in franchise history with 127 sacks behind Carl Eller's 130 and ninth with 988 tackles (team stats), which is the second-most by a Minnesota defensive lineman behind Alan Page. Marshall set the NFL record for recoveries of fumbles by opponents (30), including 29 with Minnesota. Jason Taylor, who was enshrined in Canton in 2017, recorded 139.5 sacks and recovered 29 fumbles during his career. Taylor started 199 of the 233 games he played.

Jones was enshrined in 1980, six years after wrapping his impressive career (eight Pro Bowls) as a contemporary of Marshall. Jones may have benefitted from voters who were more familiar with Jones. The reality is that there should be room for both in the Hall of Fame.

And yes, Marshall started in each of Minnesota's four Super Bowl appearances during a dominant run.

But even if you don't believe me about Jim's credentials, I'll let Fran Tarkenton — a Hall of Famer himself — have the last word.

"Jim was the leader of the team, unequivocally, for 19 years. He made everyone around him better. He was as good a pass rusher as there was during all 19 years," Tarkenton said. "He had enormous talent, relentless competitiveness and was respected by everyone in football. No offensive lineman could keep Jim Marshall from harassing the quarterback."

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