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Vikings' positional analysis: Offensive linemen

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Posted Feb. 25, 2011 @ 9:37 p.m. ET
By Eric Edholm

This is the fifth in a series of position-by-position looks at the Vikings' personnel entering the 2011 offseason. The series continues with an analysis of Minnesota's OL situation.

The offensive line's breakdown didn't get the attention that QB Brett Favre's fall did or even the injuries that mounted at receiver. But the OL struggles were another big factor in a season that ended with a 6-10 record and sporadic offensive failures.

Of course, injuries were a factor, too — OLG Steve Hutchinson, owner of one of the longer iron-man streaks among NFL offensive linemen, suffered a season-ending injury. C John Sullivan also fought through injuries throughout the season. The lack of depth behind them was telling.

Here's a breakdown of the offensive linemen on the roster:

OLT Bryant McKinnie: He started the season strong and looked to be having one of his more consistent seasons in recent memory, staying healthy in the process. But his weight appeared to be an issue by season's end. McKinnie can dominate opponents when he extends his arms and locks in, but he's often too passive, can give up pressures to quickness and allowed Favre to get hit with a couple of brutal blind-side shots. The Vikings must determine whether he can hold up and for how long. It might be time to start seeking his replacement.

OLG Steve Hutchinson: Although Hutchinson was at times the Vikings' most consistent lineman, he also began to show his age. The broken thumb he suffered ended his season and was a fluke injury, but it appears he is on the downside of his career. Hutchinson no longer is the road grader he was in his prime and was bull-rushed a few times in eye-opening fashion. Although he's likely to be back in 2011, the Vikings also must investigate whether they have his eventual replacement on the roster.

C John Sullivan: Calf problems plagued him early on, and he later developed an odd snapping problem in the shotgun. Sullivan is smart and can handle all of the offensive calls at the line, but he lacks the girth to handle big nose tackles and can get pushed around at the point of attack. Although he's probably a capable starter for the time being, the Vikings certainly won't hesitate to upgrade at this spot.

ORG Anthony Herrera: He ended the season on injured reserve with a knee injury and also suffered a triceps ailment. Herrera is a nasty, physical mauler but never has had the best technique and is not overly talented. Leslie Frazier told PFW that the Vikings will have to look into finding younger options if Herrera doesn't hold up physically.

ORT Phil Loadholt: Although he's massive and (at times) powerful, Loadholt has lacked consistency and discipline in his first two seasons and must improve. He had 14 penalties, an obscene number, and he allowed too much pressure from closed-end rushers. Although Loadholt can lay the wood in the run game, those powerful blocks are too infrequent. He'll continue to get a chance as the starter, but Loadholt must make strides in Year Three.

OT-C Ryan Cook: After being bounced as the starting right tackle, Cook backed up there and at center. That versatility is a strong quality, but Cook has few other excellent traits. It's about 50-50 whether he returns or not, though he does have starting experience at a few spots, which would be attractive.

OG Chris DeGeare: The fifth-rounder was a healthy scratch through much of the season, but he was thrown into the fire when Hutchinson went down. The results, predictably, were mixed. The biggest concern is a lack of aggressiveness, although Frazier said he still thinks DeGeare will improve.

C Jon Cooper: The backup center was relatively nondescript in a few relief appearances, but he could be kept as a cheap backup at a critical position.

OT Thomas Welch: A sixth-round pick of the Patriots, Welch never saw the field after being signed to the active roster late in the season. He has size but appears to be strictly a right tackle if he can make it in the NFL.

Outlook: The Vikings need help here. What was, at times, a dominant group in 2009 has fallen off at several spots. No current starter is projected to be in his same spot for certain two years from now. Frazier told PFW that the team needed to get younger inside, but the OT spots also deserve some attention.

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