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Udoh Welcomes Position Switch to Guard After Surprise Phone Call


EAGAN, Minn. — Olisaemeka Udoh received quite the phone call Sunday, just two days before he was set to report to training camp.

Phil Rauscher, who was announced Tuesday as the Vikings offensive line coach, was on the other end and had a question.

How would you feel about moving from tackle to guard?

"Phil called me Sunday before camp," Udoh told "I thought it was an exciting opportunity, so I'm going to make the most of it."

Udoh has indeed made the switch to guard in the early days of camp, playing on the right side after spending the first two seasons of his NFL career at both tackle spots. The 24-year-old said he has only played guard twice in his life — once in high school and again at the 2019 East-West Shrine Game.

And if all that wasn't enough, the Vikings have tested out Udoh's skills right away by having him split first-team reps with Dakota Dozier with a chance to potentially earn the starting job.

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said the team has always liked Udoh's athletic profile — he's 6-foot-6 and 325 pounds and has a combination of agility and power.

But with Brian O'Neill entrenched at the right tackle spot and the starting left tackle spot appearing to be a battle between veteran Rashod Hill and first-round pick Christian Darrisaw, the position switch gives Udoh a chance to crack the starting lineup somewhere else. He also could show position flexibility, which is helpful on game days when active rosters are reduced.

"He's a really good athlete, and he's big, has got extremely long arms, has got some physicality to him," Zimmer said. "I talked to him after practice [Wednesday] and asked him, 'How did you like being in at guard?'

"And he said he loved it, so that's a good thing," Zimmer added. "Hopefully he keeps progressing so we'll have a battle in there with [Dru] Samia and Dozier and those guys. So we're just trying to find the five best however we can find them."

Samia (left guard) and rookie Wyatt Davis (right guard) have spent time with the second unit through two days of non-padded practices.

Udoh was a 2019 sixth-round pick out of Elon University. He has appeared in seven regular-season games with just 35 combined offensive snaps in two seasons.

And according to his 2019 draft profile, his arm length measures in at a whopping 35 3/8 inches.

Vikings Offensive Coordinator Klint Kubiak said Thursday that Udoh's arm length is actually a plus for him inside.

"Oli is so athletic; he has a lot of God-given ability. He's extremely smart and a hard worker," Kubiak said. "He's entering Year 3 here – same scheme, and it's just coming together for him at the right time.

"He's got some position flexibility. We're going to try him at some different spots," Kubiak continued. "He's playing guard right now, but we know he can play tackle too. So really looking forward to what Oli does in this camp.

"I think he's done a great job thus far," Kubiak added. "We'll give him a lot of reps vs. our unbelievable defense and that's going to help him progress that much faster. I think his length really helps him."

Although it's early, Udoh told he quickly noticed that moving over a spot means being a little more rugged in the trenches.

View photos of Vikings players from 2021 U.S. Bank Vikings Training Camp practice at the TCO Performance Center on July 29.

He added that while his on-field reps have been valuable, he's actually taken more away from classroom work with Rauscher as he wades into the deep end with his new position.

"Right now, since I'm learning it, the classroom is more beneficial," Udoh said. "Everything on the field, the reps, are awesome opportunities to see if I know what I'm doing. But it's been as smooth as it can possibly be.

"I wouldn't call it a challenge," Udoh added. "It's just adjusting to the different calls and how tight [it is] … there's a whole bunch less space inside at guard. It's more power instead of finesse."

It remains to be seen how Udoh will progress through camp as he tries to earn a starting job on a Vikings offensive line that will be under scrutiny in 2021.

But the early reviews for his position switch have been positive, especially from O'Neill.

"Everything comes to him a lot quicker now. He picks up things, he understands the deeper level of plays a lot more," O'Neill said of Udoh. "He's so much more confident in who he is and how much of a great athlete he is, and he understands his strengths really well – and there's a lot of them.

"He's a really good player, and I'm proud of him for the work that he's put in," O'Neill added. "Because he's way different now than he was when he first got here."