With Vikings players scheduled to return to Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center over the next week, focus is shifting to how the team will fare on the field in 2020.
ESPN Vikings reporter Courtney Cronin recently took a look at various position groups for Minnesota's offense, and predicted whether or not those groups would be better, worse or the same in 2020 than they were in 2019.
Of the five position groups — quarterback, running back, tight end, wide receiver and offensive line — Cronin has just one unit improving from this past season.
Cronin opined that the Vikings offensive line will be better in 2020, and predicted that another season in the same offensive scheme will lead to improved play.
Riley Reiff, Pat Elflein, Garrett Bradbury, Dakota Dozier, Brian O'Neill, Rashod Hill, Dru Samia, Aviante Collins, Oli Udoh, Brett Jones are back from the 2019 roster, with Josh Kline being the only departure.
View photos of the Vikings 2020 draft class signing their rookie contracts.
Minnesota also added six rookie offensive linemen this offseason by drafting Ezra Cleveland, Blake Brandel and Kyle Hinton and signing rookie free agents Brady Aiello, Jake Lacina and Tyler Higby.
We say this most years about the Vikings offensive line. In some instances, new players and adjusted positioning for others was expected to improve a unit that ranked 22nd in ESPN's Pass Block Win Rate (ability to sustain blocks for 2.5 seconds) at 54 percent over the past three seasons combined. More recently, Kubiak's zone-blocking scheme was thought of as the fix to play to the strengths of this unit's personnel.
Well, this season Minnesota boasts the combination of new players (namely Ezra Cleveland, who could eventually be a franchise left tackle), another year in the same zone scheme, and the goal of improving the interior of the O-line with a "wide-open competition" at both guard spots. According to General Manager Rick Spielman, this will likely result in significant changes to the starting five.
Cronin said there are still unanswered questions regarding the starting unit, but noted there could be some fresh faces up front.
Samia and Udoh are "going to have to catch up," according to Kubiak, but both have a shot at earning important roles after using their rookie seasons as a redshirt year to learn the offense. Elflein's 32 pressures allowed in 2019 were the ninth most of any guard, according to Pro Football Focus, so the Vikings former center-turned-left guard faces the most competition of any lineman for his job, which could be occupied by the aforementioned names, Dozier, Collins and even Reiff.
Without an offseason program, it's too early to guess whether Cleveland will be ready to play left tackle in 2020. If he is, Reiff could bump inside to left guard, a move that would solidify that side of the line. The two spots that aren't up for debate are center (Bradbury) and right tackle (O'Neill). The remaining three positions have a ways to go before Minnesota can confidently settle on a starting five, but the commitment to improving the interior is necessary and should help sort out some of the problem areas in pass protection from the past few years.
View a photo tour of TCO Performance Center with Vikings Head Athletic Trainer Eric Sugarman who recently took NBC Sports' Peter King around to showcase how the team is preparing to combat COVID-19.
The Vikings used just four different starting offensive line combinations in 2019. Bradbury made all 16 regular-season starts in 2019, while Reiff, O'Neill and Elflein each made 15 starts. Dozier made four starts. Collins and Hill each made one.
Cronin also wrote that Minnesota's running backs, tight ends and quarterbacks will be the same in 2020 as 2019, but she noted she expects the Vikings wide receivers group to take a step back after trading Stefon Diggs.
Bercich inducted into Joliet Area Sports Hall of Fame
Former Vikings linebacker Pete Bercich was recently recognized for his high school football career as he was inducted into the Joliet Area Sports Hall of Fame this week.
Bercich, now a radio analyst for KFAN 100.3-FM and Vikings Entertainment Network, was born in Joliet, Illinois.
Bercich was a star linebacker at Providence Catholic High School, earning All-State honors as a senior in 1989.
He helped Providence Catholic win the school's only state title in football in 1987. Bercich, who was already in Providence Catholic's Hall of Fame, said that state championship remains one of his favorite accomplishments.
"Only one time was I a champion [in my entire career]," Bercich said on a video chat for his induction. "I let kids know that when you're 14, 15 or 16, you can do things that will impact you for the rest of your life.
"It was a pretty amazing group of guys that year," Bercich added.
Bercich played collegiately at Notre Dame before he was a seventh-round pick in 1994 by the Vikings. He played 57 games in Purple and later had a stint as the team's linebackers coach.
The full video of Bercich's virtual induction can be found here.