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Monday Morning Mailbag: Vikings Offensive Line and QB Status after Offseason Program

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The Vikings voluntary offseason program is in the books, and so is the Minnesota Vikings Foundation's Golf Tournament presented by Molson Coors. It was great to catch up with several Vikings Legends and see a couple of current players take some swings. We'll be fully recapping that event soon.

Editorial content will be slowing down a bit during the break between now and training camp. We'll still have a few things, but we'll also use this time for a bit of vacation, some long-term plans and preparing to hit the ground running when training camp opens next month. I'll also be working on the 2024 Vikings Yearbook, which will be available for purchase, and the Training Camp Playbook, which is provided for free to camp attendees.

Thanks again so much to the folks who sent in questions for next week's Daunte Culpepper edition of MMM. I sincerely appreciated the opportunity to meet him for the first time and relay those questions.

Sam Darnold was sacked 30-plus times in his first four years in the league. That will really hurt statistically and physically. I want to see what he can do when he is not running for his life. I am hoping and praying the Vikings OL gives him a cleaner pocket.

— Gerald Goblirsch

Gerald is correct that Darnold was under duress early and often in his career, beginning with the Jets in 2018.

Darnold was sacked 30, 33 and 35 times over the course of his first three seasons in which he attempted 414, 441 and only 364 passes, respectively. The sacked percentage in 2020 was 8.8.

The percentage lowered a little to 7.9 in 2021 when he appeared in 11 games for Carolina, but he also was sacked 35 times that season.

Darnold most recently spoke to Twin Cities media members during mandatory minicamp (June 6). He was asked if this is one of the more talented offenses he's been in.

"We've got a really good skill group, then obviously a great offensive line to go along with it," Darnold said.

The offensive line is highlighted by tackles Christian Darrisaw and Brian O'Neill, and the pivot is again going to be manned by Garrett Bradbury. Most of the offseason program had Blake Brandel at left guard and Ed Ingram at right guard with the first group.

O'Connell recently mentioned Dalton Risner will be competing with Brandel and Ingram.

Sacks can result from an offensive lineman getting defeated on a play, a team getting outflanked, a bad play design/choice that wasn't changed with an audible, or a quarterback taking too long to get rid of the football. The frequency can increase if a team finds itself in obvious passing situations like bad down-and-distances.

The Vikings offensive line, while protecting four different starting quarterbacks, allowed 43 sacks last season, but the sack percentage was 6.6. In 2022, the team limited opponents to 38 sacks and a sack percentage of 5.8.

Multiple people can have a role in limiting the frequency of sacks. Doing so should only help Darnold.

Where does the QB position stand? Is the helm truly in the hands of Captain SSD (Swordsman Sammy D.)?

— Christopher McCorkle

O'Connell closed out the offseason program with a media session in which he was asked if he'd call Darnold the No. 1 QB going into training camp, and he said yes. Anyone who has followed along with what O'Connell has been saying this offseason was not surprised by the following answer:

"We haven't had to put out a depth chart or anything like that, but, yeah, I would say Sam would be the guy I would look to," O'Connell said. "Based upon the spring he's had and really where he's at in his career and his quarterback journey and what he's been able to do coming in and really hit the ground running and really kind of take advantage of a competitive situation. But at the same time, J.J. McCarthy has really improved, Nick Mullens has had a great spring, and Jaren [Hall] has also improved."

There were plenty of times in which Darnold impressed during open Organized Team Activity practices and minicamp. He quickly developed rapport with Jordan Addison and enjoyed tossing footballs toward Justin Jefferson during the team's minicamp.

Vikings fans will get a chance to see all the QBs during the open training camp practices, which were announced last week.

With the play of Mullens last season, why are they keeping him? He proved he can't run this offense. Did you or anyone see anything last year that said, 'Yeah, let's keep Mullens as a safety net at QB.' "

— Bob Hoffman

The costly interceptions and the team going 0-3 in Mullens' three starts last season understandably undercut some successful demonstrations by him.

He relieved Joshua Dobbs at Las Vegas and led Minnesota on the only scoring drive of that 3-0 victory. He also had the Vikings up 17-3 to start the fourth quarter at Cincinnati the following week.

Although he was a backup for the past two seasons, Mullens is the rostered quarterback who is currently most familiar with Minnesota's offense.

Kirk Cousins was consistently complimentary of Mullens as a teammate and all the things Mullens helped Cousins with since 2022. Based on everything I've observed and heard, I don't think there's been a day that Mullens hasn't been trying to put his best foot forward on behalf of the team's betterment.

View photos of Vikings players during minicamp practice at the TCO Performance Center.

I came across an article about interior o-line competition for a starting spot on the roster. It made me lean back and think some about what the article was saying. I came to the conclusion that there is very little detail about what it takes to make the starting role as an interior offensive lineman. Either it be the center, the guards or tackles. What do they have to prove in competition for the starting job? Most importantly would be protecting the QB, allowing time for the play to develop and going home with a "WIN." Training camp videos show some of the activities. Without giving away the secrets in the playbook, what exactly are the requirements needed for an interior offensive lineman to earn the starting spot on the roster? More insight about this please.


— Jerry in Ohio

I hesitate to try to put my words on what members of the coaching staff, who have far greater expertise on the matter than I, will use in making their decisions.

We know that Darrisaw and O'Neill have established themselves at left and right tackle, respectively.

On the interior, teams benefit when centers have command of the offense and protections and can be an important nerve center for the rest of the group. In an interview with Rich Eisen last week, O'Connell mentioned Bradbury's added value to a team that will have a new quarterback.

"Garrett Bradbury's been Mr. Reliable for us in the middle," O'Connell said. "And anytime you're transitioning at the quarterback position, to have a veteran center really drive that communication and make sure we're all on the same page, it's a good setup."

That leaves the guard spots where the Vikings opened the offseason program with Brandel at left guard and Ingram at right guard. The Vikings added Dan Feeney, who has experience at center and guard, during free agency, and then reached a deal to return Risner.

O'Connell's media session on June 4 included thoughts about the team's status at guard.

"Really thought Dalton did a lot of good things when he got here last year. But at the same time Blake has been a guy, really since he's gotten here [in 2020], who has been asked to really be ready to play two or three different spots," O'Connell said. "So our challenge to Blake was really embrace that left guard spot through the spring, really get the teaching and the mastery of your craft at one spot, which he really hasn't been able to do since he's been a Minnesota Viking.

"We've seen the gains off that between not only Blake, but his fit among those five offensive linemen, and then there was a purpose and a plan of bringing Dalton back to create a very competitive situation at that left guard spot," O'Connell added. "We want to play the best five guys we can."

We hear the phrase "technique and fundamentals" quite often, but there is a bit more to it than lip service. Each pass or run play has a specific execution for each offensive player. Coaches know what is supposed to be done and how they want it accomplished. They can break things down on tape and grade the execution. Size, strength, footwork, the ability to anchor, and the capacity to recover when a foe gains an edge are likely to factor into the evaluation, as well.

View photos from the Vikings eighth OTA practice, which took place on June 11 at the TCO Performance Center.

With OTAs wrapped up, what are Vikings players allowed to do and how much (if any) can they be involved with coaches and Vikings staff until training camp begins?

— Steve in Nashville, Tennessee

Hello in Nashville. Looking forward to being back down there at the end of the month.

It's really kind of incredible to comb through all the rules and policies put into place to govern teams' offseason workout programs, which are mostly voluntary in their nine-week span but also include a mandatory minicamp.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement also covers this part of the calendar year and states no players "shall be permitted to participate in any organized workouts or organized football activity of any kind, or any football activity with any coach, on either a voluntary or involuntary basis."

Each player does have freedom to "work out on his own at any time on a voluntary basis without the participation of any coach, trainer or other Club personnel except that the Club's strength and conditioning coaches may direct a player's individual workout in the weight room and may supervise use of the weight room to prevent injury and correct misuse of equipment."

Some players have personal trainers that they can go work with either in Minnesota or other locations across the country. Some may choose to utilize access to a facility as well-equipped as Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center. Some may choose to take the workout program developed by Vikings health and performance staff members where they are spending the next few weeks.

I am a 50-plus-year Vikings fan, and I have seldom been more excited about the team than I am right now. I think that Kwesi, Kevin O'Connell and Flo' (Brian Flores) have done a superb job putting together a great team and scheme. I don't know if they have enough to win it all this year, but '25 and beyond look bright. I am curious about Kwesi's first draft, specifically, what is going on with Lewis Cine? I read every day, and I never see his name. Did that terrible fracture effectively end his career? Is he a bust? Or does he just not fit in the Flores defense? I assumed he was a great first-round pick in '22. I would love to see him succeed, but don't see how that can happen if he barely shows up in practice. Skol Vikings!

— John in Indianapolis

Appreciate the longtime support. There are several reasons to be excited about the upcoming season, or at the very least curious to see how one of the most active offseasons in memory pans out for Minnesota against the backdrop of what many believe will be a competitive NFC North.

In building out the roster and adding impressive players during free agency, the Vikings also have made moves to create more room against the salary cap going forward.

Cine was among the players who remained in Minnesota to close out the offseason program last week and took plenty of reps in those sessions. Prior to last week, he had mostly been working with the developmental groups on a field separate from the first team. Because we can't watch and cover both fields at once very well, I didn't see too much of what was going on among the developmental field.

The Vikings rostered six safeties last season, with Harrison Smith, Camryn Bynum, Josh Metellus, Theo Jackson, Jay Ward and Cine making the team. Smith, Bynum and Metellus were deployed in a three-safety set that yielded nice results for Flores in 2023. Jackson was quickly involved, as well.

We'll see more once training camp opens. Cine also is likely to have some opportunities in preseason games.