Each day this week, we will break down where the Vikings stand at certain positions heading into next week’s NFL draft. Today, we continue the series with the offensive line.
The Vikings will have a new starter along the offensive line this season. But who will it be?
They released veteran left guard Charlie Johnson in the offseason, leaving a starting spot up for grabs. It remains to be seen whether David Yankey can seamlessly transition into a starter after spending his entire rookie season on the bench, or if the Vikings find a starter at some point in the draft. If both options fail, the Vikings re-signed veteran Joe Berger as a safety net and won’t be forced to reach on a guard.
It’s almost a guarantee that General Manager Rick Spielman’s draft classes will include an offensive lineman. The only year Spielman hasn’t selected an offensive lineman during his tenure with the Vikings was in 2007. Plenty of mock drafts have the Vikings selecting an offensive lineman in the first round, particularly Iowa offensive tackle Brandon Scherff. While Scherff is a talented prospect, the move would be out of the ordinary for Spielman. The only lineman he’s selected in the first round was left tackle Matt Kalil with the fourth overall pick.
The Vikings were decimated by injuries along the offensive line last year, particularly on the right side. Right guard Brandon Fusco and right tackle Phil Loadholt both tore their pectoral muscles and were placed on injured reserve. They should be set outside of guard, however.
Projected starters: Kalil at left tackle, Berger at left guard (for now), John Sullivan at center, Fusco at right guard and Loadholt at right tackle.
Don’t forget about: Berger has been a reliable veteran for the Vikings over the past four years. He made nine starts last year and held his own. He’s penciled in as the starter for now at left guard, but the Vikings hope that either Yankey will develop into a starter or they find a starter in the draft.
Level of need: High. It’s among the top three biggest needs along with linebacker and cornerback. They settled on bringing Johnson back last year, and it turned out to be a bad decision. The Vikings didn’t address the need of a left guard in free agency and can’t go into training camp assuming Yankey or Berger will pan out. One of their first three picks next week must be an offensive lineman.
Five prospects to remember: Iowa OT Brandon Scherff, Duke OG Laken Tomlinson, Hobart OG Ali Marpet, Alabama OG Arie Kouandjio and Oregon OT Jake Fisher
Our best guess: The Vikings will pass on selecting an offensive lineman in the first round and look for Day 2 prospects to fill the need at left guard. Tomlinson and Marpet are two guards in this draft to keep an eye on that fit the description. Tomlinson appears to be a second-round pick, while Marpet could slide into the third round.
Midway through the second period of the Wild’s 3-0 victory over St. Louis on Monday, a transformation took place.
A building that was nervous … and a team that was tentative … suddenly united with the rarest of Minnesota displays: confidence.
Some might even call it swagger.
From the point Zach Parise found Jason Pominville for a tap-in goal to the final whistle, that’s what I saw on the ice at Xcel Energy Center. And as someone who wondered going into this game how the Wild and its fans would respond to the pressure of expectations … well, consider me impressed.
The Parise/Mikael Granlund/Pominville line was simply dominant, particularly in that second period. The first goal was set up by great stickhandling by Granlund before great vision by Parise and the easiest finish of Pominville’s life. The second goal was classic Parise, outworking a defensive player in the slot for a loose puck and banging it past goalie Jake Allen in one quick motion.
Still, after Granlund missed a bad-angle tap-in that would have iced the game in the third period, the veteran hockey minds around me concluded that it would be a nail-biter at the finish – that the Blues would score and threaten to tie.
These folks have seen a lot of Wild games. They’ve seen a lot of Minnesota sporting events. It’s a natural reaction. But again, there was that swagger.
The Wild closed it out with ease, never being threatened before adding the empty-netter that sealed the deal with 2 minutes left. Minnesota gave up just 17 shots all game. Vladimir Tarasenko, one game after notching a hat-trick, was a minus-3 and had zero shots.
If that wasn’t enough confidence for you, how about Jason Zucker, one of the smallest Wild players, mixing it up with every Blues player he could find – including one shift in the second when he and Alex Pietrangelo jabbed at each other for at least 20 seconds.
Or Matt Dumba, playing in his first playoffs, laughing at Blues chief goon Steve Ott for whiffing on a check near the Wild bench.
Or even the Wild fan on the giant scoreboard hoisting a faux Stanley Cup.
After the game, Wild coach Mike Yeo had the most #Minnesotan quote ever: “We have pretty decent confidence that we’ve been working a long time to get.”
This confidence … it’s so unfamiliar. Maybe we could all get used to it?
Even after losing Game 2 against St. Louis on Saturday, the Wild holds a position of playoff control against the Blues — a strange position for this franchise in the playoffs and for its fans (and Minnesota fans in general).
Every series the Wild managed to win in the past has come with an air of desperation. Even in the only other series in franchise history in which the Wild won Game 1 — 2003 against Colorado — things took a quick downward turn when Colorado won Games 2, 3 and 4.
Minnesota needed to rally from a 3-1 deficit in that series; it needed to do the same to win the following series against Vancouver. Last year, of course, the Wild trailed Colorado 3-2 before winning the final two games.
Three series victories, all finalized in Game 7s on the road.
So this business of being tied 1-1 after a road split … this is new. This is a best-of-5 series now, with three games in Minnesota. The Wild doesn’t have to win another road game, and it can still win the series.
The questions now become: Can the Wild handle it, and can you — dear fans — handle this?
It is different to play when you are the one with something to lose, and it is different to watch when there are expectations vs. hopes.
The Wild’s best work in the playoffs last year and during the regular season this year came during desperation. I’ll be curious to see how the team reacts in Game 3, and I’ll be similarly curious to see the tenor of fans in the stands and on social media.
Is everyone ready for this? We’re about to find out.
I’ll be live at the X, ready with some postgame thoughts on the blog right after the game ends. Expect postgame videos with myself and hockey guru Michael Russo, as well as the best interviews from the locker room, postgame as well.
The bipartisan 61-4 vote in favor of the ban came during debate on a budget bill covering state departments and operations. Sen. Branden Petersen, R-Andover, proposed the ban clarifying that "no state funds may be appropriated or tax expenditures used to fund the construction of a new major league soccer stadium."
Wolves President/head coach Flip Saunders met with the media for 30 minutes on Monday to help tie up loose ends on a season that didn’t go as planned for Minnesota — until it did.
Saunders used his opening statement to talk at length about how he thought the team had a good mix of veterans and young players at the start of the year — a group he hoped would compete for a playoff spot — before injuries derailed the season. At that point, he and the Wolves had a decision: keep playing some of the non-injured veterans or go with a wholesale development movement.
The Wolves obviously chose the latter and won just 16 games while also developing Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine (and securing a pick guaranteed to be no worse than No. 4 in this year’s draft).
“I felt we accomplished what we set out to do,” Saunders said when talking about the franchise’s revised strategy.
If the rebuild is to mean anything, though, this year’s draft is crucial. Whether you think the Wolves were tanking or merely just that bad with all the injuries this year, the end result is a high draft pick. Here is what Saunders had to say when I asked him about how he and the Wolves will approach things as the May 19 lottery and June draft draw nearer:
“We’ll go through both individually and as a staff and see a lot of players, watch a lot of film. A lot of it has to do with what background checks you have on players — and communications with them when we sit down and talk to them. … It’s a daily process you go through evaluating, and it can change.
I believe this: I believe when you draft in the top four or five, I believe you’re going to get a good player. This is a pretty deep draft, and it’s a pretty top-heavy draft really compared maybe to some of these past years. What you have to do at that point is take the best player available and not be as concerned with what position he (plays). Usually teams that have made major mistakes in this league have drafted for position high rather than drafting who the best player was. … I’ve always had an order in my head.”
That’s nothing revolutionary, of course, but in a draft in which so many people seem focused on big men Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor as the possible top two picks, Saunders said on multiple occasions that he believes the Wolves will do well regardless of where they wind up picking (anywhere from No. 1 to 4).
“Whoever we draft will be a piece (next year),” Saunders said. “The draft is that good.”
Maybe he has to say that now, but it’s also worth noting that Flip has done a pretty good job so far in evaluating draft talent. Gorgui Dieng, Shabazz Muhammad and Zach LaVine are his first-round picks, and all of them seem to be rotation players at worst. Andrew Wiggins, acquired for Kevin Love, could be a superstar.
Still, I have to imagine that deep down, knowing the injury history of Nikola Pekovic, Saunders has to be hoping to have a chance to draft one of those big men.