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Zimmer: 'Right Demeanor & Attitude' Led to Improved Offensive Line Play in 2017



EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. —The Vikings offense enjoyed a resurgent season in 2017, compiling more total yards, rushing yards and points while also giving up fewer sacks than the previous season.

The big men in the trenches played a pivotal role in the turnaround that helped Minnesota finish 13-3, win the NFC North and secure a first-round playoff bye.

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer dished out plenty of credit to the unit Tuesday in his end-of-the-season press conference.

"I felt like our personnel department did a really good job in getting guys in here. I thought [Vikings offensive line coach] Tony Sparano did a really good job," Zimmer said. "We started out the season with basically five different starters on the offensive line. Those guys played together; they were good athletes. The guys that we brought in had the right demeanor and attitude.

"I was able to talk to a couple of them before they left, and they really liked how things went," Zimmer added. "Obviously, not the injuries and the way they went, but we move guys around a lot in that spot because you can only dress seven on game day. It's important to be able to have some flexibility there."

Vikings General Manger Rick Spielman and the front office tinkered with the offensive line last offseason as the team brought in Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers in free agency and later added Pat Elflein in the draft.

Reiff started 17 of Minnesota's 18 total games, Elflein started 16, and Remmers started 13 total games.

Reiff, who was voted as a captain by his teammates, rarely spoke to the media but led by example with his play.

"Riley's tough," said Vikings quarterback Case Keenum. "He's just a good old country boy that — he's almost mean, and you like having tough, mean guys on your team.

"Now once you get to know him, he's a great guy, and I love him," Keenum added. "But he's a guy that you want on your side, and I'm glad he's back there protecting our backside."

Remmers played the majority of his snaps at right tackle before moving to left guard in the postseason due to injuries. 

"I think he's one of our five best players, so that was the number one thing," Zimmer explained about the move. "I think Mike is very aware of the things that happen inside there. 

"He's got good quickness, good in the running game. He's been impressive in pass protection to me," Zimmer added. "So, we're just trying to get the five guys who we felt were the best on the field."

Elflein, a third-round pick out of Ohio State, was named to the All-Rookie Team by the Pro Football Writers of America. He was praised by teammates and coaches alike for mastering the transition into the NFL.

"His athleticism is really good," Zimmer said. "I mean, he can get his hips into a lot of places and get guys cut off that really should be hard to do because the position of the guy he's blocking. That's big.

"Pat doesn't say much, which is also impressive," Zimmer added. "He just kind of keeps his mouth shut and does his job, which is a good thing for a rookie, too."

While Reiff, Remmers and Elflein were three fresh faces on the team, the other two primary starters were with the Vikings in 2016, just not at the same positions.

Joe Berger started all 18 games and led the Vikings with 1,114 offensive snaps (99.82 percent). The 13-year veteran, who had mainly played center the previous two seasons in Purple, was a selfless leader who played a key role in paving the way for Minnesota to rush for 1,957 total yards, more than 750 yards than the 2016 season.

"That's something that we've just been effective at. There's a million things that go into a run game," said Berger, who deflected credit away from himself. "To pick the one thing that has made it work, I think that's an impossible task to do. It's a team effort – receivers, tight ends, running backs, o-line, quarterback – everybody. Just working together as a team."

Another former center, Nick Easton, slid over to left guard in 2017. Although his season ended in Week 16 due to an ankle injury, Easton helped the Vikings revamp their screen game in his first full season as a starter.

Zimmer commended Easton's athleticism shortly after his ankle injury.

"Not just with the screen passes but some of the other things because he could get to the second level and use his athleticism," Zimmer said. "I think it had a lot to do with it. We got some more athletic guys in there, we were a little bit shorter in stature. I thought it helped our offense quite a bit."

While those five were the principal starters on the line, Rashod Hill (nine) and Jeremiah Sirles (four) each made multiple starts for Minnesota.

Rookie Danny Isidora made his first career start, and fellow rookie Aviante Collins was used in jumbo packages as an extra offensive linemen.

The Vikings offensive line experienced plenty of turnover in the offseason, but the moves paid off as Minnesota tied for seventh with 27 sacks allowed, an improvement of 11 sacks from the 2016 season.

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