View the top 20 images of Vikings offensive linemen from the 2014 season.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The phrase "starting five" took on a whole new meaning for the Vikings offensive line in 2014.
Injuries forced the Vikings to use five different starting combinations of offensive linemen in 2014, and Minnesota was only able to send the same five players out for the first snap in four consecutive games.
In an ideal situation, teams are able select five players on the offensive line and start them every week. It happened for Minnesota in 2012, the last time the Vikings made the playoffs, and is beneficial in building chemistry and work in unison.
Some seasons, like 2013, will include an occasional spot start at one of the five spots in the "next man up" scenario, which happened twice in 2013, and then other years require more of an "all hands on deck" approach.
Out of camp, the plan was to start Matt Kalil at left tackle, Charlie Johnson at left guard, John Sullivan at center, Brandon Fusco at right guard and Phil Loadholt at right tackle. Only Kalil and Sullivan started all 16 games.
Kalil became a lightning rod for criticism after Detroit's Ezekiel Ansah had 2.5 sacks and three quarterback hurries in Week 6, but received little after limiting Ansah in their Week 15 rematch when Ansah was credited with one tackle and one quarterback hurry.
Kalil, a Pro Bowler after his 2012 rookie season, said the season provided a learning opportunity and something to build from. A knee injury that required surgery in the spring sidelined him during the offseason program until training camp and was the first time he's dealt with an injury in his career.
Fusco's great start to the season fresh off a contract extension was first attacked when Fusco tore a pectoral muscle in New Orleans in Week 3. He was replaced by 2014 free agent addition Vladimir Ducasse in Week 4, and the Vikings went with that lineup until Week 7 at Buffalo when Sullivan and Ducasse left the field because of injuries after the same play.
Veteran swing guy Joe Berger, who is capable of playing both guard spots and center filled in for Sullivan, and tackle Mike Harris, who was claimed after training camp, stepped in for Ducasse.
Sullivan returned the following week at Tampa Bay, and Berger was shifted to right guard for the remainder of the season. The combo of Kalil, Johnson, Sullivan, Berger and Loadholt lasted four starts until Loadholt suffered a pectoral injury similar to Fusco's. Harris replaced Loadholt the remainder of the season.
Johnson suffered an ankle injury against the New York Jets and was replaced by Ducasse for the next two games before returning for the season finale.
The job that Sullivan did at center was slightly unheralded, given that two different players lined up to his immediate left and four different players to his immediate right during the season, but rookie Teddy Bridgewater said the veteran was incredibly helpful in his first season.
"I call Sully a genius, the mastermind, because if there's something I miss up front, whether it's redirecting the protection or changing to a run or pass play, he's that guy," Bridgewater said. "He understands what it takes to be successful at this level."