MANKATO — Minnesota Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier has made rebuilding the team’s offensive line one of his priorities this summer and said the project will likely take most of the preseason.
At Monday’s morning press conference, the coach said he was looking for three qualifies from his O-linemen. “We want them to be smart, we want them to be tough, and we want them to be disciplined,” he said.
Barring any serious setbacks, it appears that four of the five spots on the line are already a given. First-round draftee Matt Kalil will be at left tackle, veteran Charlie Johnson will move to left guard, veteran John Sullivan is the center and fourth-year player Phil Loadholt will start at right tackle.
That leaves the right guard spot up for grabs. Third-year player Chris DeGeare out of Wake Forest got a decent amount of playing time last year, but the favorites for the starting job appear to be Brandon Fusco and Geoff Schwartz,
Fusco (6-feet-4, 306 pounds) was drafted by the Vikings in the sixth round a year ago. He played his college ball at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania. Schwartz (6-6, 340) was drafted in the seventh round by the Carolina Panthers in 2008 and was signed by the Vikings as an unrestricted free agent this offseason. He played college ball at Oregon.
The Vikings donned full pads for the first time in training camp Monday afternoon and went through a spirited afternoon workout.
The team didn’t do any serious 11-on-11 drills until the final hour, where all four quarterbacks had their hits and misses.
Christian Ponder hit tight end Kyle Rudolph over the middle for a 20-yard touchdown. Joe Webb found Michael Jenkins for a 10-yard gain on the right side and followed that up by rolling to his right and passing to fullback Ryan D’Imperio, who fell over the goal line for the score.
Sage Rosenfels ended the practice by lofting a high-arching pass to Jarius Wright in the left corner of the end zone for a TD. During a goal-line drill, Toby Gerhart busted through the left side for a score.
The defense also had its share of plays. Both cornerback Chris Cook and safety Harrison Smith jumped pass routes and batted away would-be completions. Linebacker Tyrone McKenzie picked off a deflected pass and ran it back the other way.
When it was over, linebacker Chad Greenway said he thought the players showed a high level of energy. Ponder also thought it went well but admitted that mistakes were made and the team still has a lot of work to do.
Who’s No. 3?
It’s a given that Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart are the team’s top running backs so the real battle is for the third spot. Lorenzo Booker is gone, leaving Lex Hilliard and Jordan Todman as the favorites.
Hilliard was drafted by the Miami Dolphins out of Montana in 2008. His best year was 2009 when he appeared in all 16 games, scored three touchdowns, had 14 special teams tackles and caught nine passes for 74 yards.
Todman was signed off the San Diego Chargers practice squad last year after originally getting drafted in the sixth round. He ran for 3,179 yards at the University of Connecticut and had 616 carries and 31 touchdowns.
Although Jasper Brinkley is No. 1 on the depth chart at middle linebacker, that doesn’t mean he’s assured of the starting job.
Frazier said replacing E.J. Henderson’s leadership at the position may be as important as finding the player with the best physical skills.
“Finding that leadership is a big deal,” he said.
Receiver Percy Harvin left the field during Monday’s afternoon practice but returned a few minutes later, getting two fingers on his right hand taped. He caught some passes from a trainer before rejoining practice.
Tight end Mickey Shuler (heel), receiver Stephen Burton (toe) and offensive lineman DeMarcus Love (shoulder) all missed the afternoon practice. Frazier said that Love might be out two weeks.