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Youth Movement: Easton, Elflein Make Their Push on Vikings O-Line

All eyes were on the Vikings offensive line, and the unit gave Sam Bradford a cleaner pocket in Minnesota's second preseason game of 2017.

Last week, Minnesota started Nick Easton at center and later subbed in rookie Pat Elflein. Against the Seahawks Friday night, both young linemen were part of the starting five. Easton slid over to left guard in place of the injured Alex Boone, and Elflein started at center.

Elflein said he experienced some jitters prior to his first snap but never doubted that he was prepared.

"Yeah, there were a little nerves, but I feel like if you prepare well during the week – which, we take that really seriously around here, the preparation – then what do you have to be nervous about?" Elflein said. "So preparation-wise I felt good, I felt ready to go, and going against our D-line really got me ready. But yeah, it was a good experience. It was fun."

Rashod Hill (LT), Joe Berger (RG) and Mike Remmers (RT) made up the rest of the line. It was the same combination the Vikings used during most of practice this week. Left tackle Riley Reiff, signed by Minnesota in free agency, was injured during the Vikings first training camp practice on July 27 and has not returned to full-contact drills.

After allowing two sacks of Bradford at Buffalo on Aug. 10, the offensive line kept the Vikings quarterback upright through three offensive series.

"Communication-wise, as far as knowing where each other was and being on the same page, I think it was great," Berger said. "How it actually went down, we'll see once we look at the film."

Behind the starting five, rookie running back Dalvin Cook gained 40 rushing yards on seven carries. Bradford picked up four yards on the ground himself when he scrambled on second-and-7 early in the first quarter.

"It's great to see the backside of your running back running by," Berger said. "That's what you look for in the running game, so it was good to see."

Elflein also was happy with the way the line helped Cook in his second NFL game.

"[When Dalvin] can squirt through there, usually we're all doing our jobs. So we just have to keep building on it," Elflein said. "We had a few running plays that we stringed together,

"[We have to watch the film and] break it down to see what really happened," Elflein added. "But yeah, anytime you can gain a little momentum like that, running the ball, is always good."

Bradford was 7-of-11 passing for 95 yards and a passer rating of 91.1 behind the protection of the first-team line. His stats included passes of 10, 11 and 39 yards to Stefon Diggs, a 10-yard pass to Cook and a 12-yard throw to Michael Floyd on Minnesota's first offensive play of the evening.

"Protection from the offensive line was much-improved," FOX analyst Pete Bercich said following the game. "It helped [the Vikings] to open up the passing game a little bit."

Bradford credited the increased protection for being able to make some impressive plays with the first-team offense.

"I think those guys up front, they played really well tonight," Bradford said. "I thought they did a really nice job in the run game, just changing the line of scrimmage, opening holes for Dalvin to hit. And I thought they played well in the pass game tonight, too, so I'm really proud of those guys and what they were able to do tonight."

Easton, Elflein and Hill played the entire first half, staying on the field when Case Keenum rotated in at quarterback late in the second quarter. Rookie Danny Isidora subbed in at right guard for Berger, and second-year tackle Beavers took Remmers' place alongside him.

Minnesota did not utilize a single run play behind that specific combination. Keenum was 6-of-10 passing for 37 yards on a 10-play drive that ended in a 51-yard field goal by Kai Forbath.

The Vikings shuffled the line again after halftime. In addition to Isidora and Beavers, Jeremiah Sirles and Aviante Collins were rotated in at left guard and left tackle, respectively. Zac Kerin relieved Elflein at center.

Sirles made a smart play late in the third quarter. On second-and-10 from the Vikings 11-yard line, Sirles tracked and caught a tipped Keenum pass. The catch prohibited a Seattle interception and gave the lineman a 5-yard reception in the gamebook.

On the following play, however, Keenum was taken down by Seahawks defenders Nazair Jones and Kache Palacio. It was the lone sack against Minnesota for the evening but halted the Vikings drive and forced a quick punt.

The Vikings did not gain much ground in the rushing attack after the first-team offense wrapped up for the evening.

Keenum finished the game 12-of-18 passing for 70 yards. Taylor Heinicke, who rotated in early in the fourth quarter, completed six of nine passes for 84 yards and a touchdown to Bucky Hodges.

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said he'll have a better assessment of the line's performance after watching film.

"That's really hard for me to see during the game from the sideline, but in practice we've been working Easton at guard and Elflein at center, so I've gotten a chance to see them," Zimmer said. "They're quick, low-center-of-gravity guys.

Zimmer said he thinks Minnesota is likely to have Reiff and Boone back in the mix on Aug. 27 when Minnesota hosts San Francisco in the third preseason game for both teams.

"I think we'll get all of our guys back next week," Zimmer said.

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