EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. —When Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman spoke to the media Thursday for almost 45 minutes, the players who pave the way for running backs and protect quarterbacks were discussed at length.
One of the key points Spielman made about offensive linemen is that there's a process they go through in their career, even before they are drafted.
Spielman outlined a three-part plan — from drafting a player to molding him to keeping him on the team — that gave a glimpse into how NFL teams think about offensive linemen.
Spielman said being a versatile offensive lineman could make it more likely for a player to find a home. While elite players at a single position will obviously thrive, linemen who can play multiple spots are valuable assets.
Vikings offensive lineman Joe Berger had a strong season at center this season but also had previously played both guard spots in his career.
"There will be a pretty deep class [of offensive linemen)," Spielman said. "I think as you go through this, you're looking at all these offensive tackles and are they potential swing guys who can slide inside and play guard, are you looking, 'OK this guy is a left tackle in college. Is he going to be a right tackle?'
"There are some guys who were down at the Senior Bowl who were left tackles or tackles in college and all of a sudden, we got exposed to them as guards," he added. "When we sit there and talk through all of these guys, is he a tackle? Is he a tackle that can play the right and left side? Can he swing inside? There's plenty of examples in the NFL … the more position flexibility you have, the more valuable the player is."
Spielman mentioned Cowboys guard Zack Martin and Buccaneers guard Ali Marpet as examples of recent draft picks who transitioned from playing tackle in college.
Spielman said some offensive linemen are kind of like projects because of the abundance of up-tempo and spread offenses that colleges are using.
Their approach and technique might need some tweaking toward a pro-style offense in the NFL.
"I think just in general, offensive linemen take a little longer to develop, and it's just the way the game has developed in college. I don't think it's anyone's fault," Spielman said. "I think with the restrictions we have with the CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) and our guys being able to take guys that come from spread offenses, 99.9 percent of the time, are working out of a two-point stance so teaching them out of a three-point stance and how to run block takes time and development, but we have such limited time with them now with the way the CBA is, I think offensive linemen are going to take some time."
According to Spielman, one of the top priorities of his job is keeping his own players throughout the development process.
Because teams are always looking for offensive linemen, Spielman said that the position is a hot commodity during roster cuts at the end of training camp.
"I know, every year when it comes down to the 53-man cut down, that may be the most active position people are looking for," Spielman said. "I don't know the history, but I bet you look at the people that are released, if a team thinks an offensive lineman has a chance, he's probably going to get claimed.
"So you're very guarded on a guy who may not be ready, but has upside, but he's going to take time to develop," he added. "You want to try to keep those guys, because if you get rid of those guys, and you get injuries up front, it really hurts your football team."