Minnesota Vikings: Jeff Baca

MINNEAPOLIS -- Between now and the Minnesota Vikings' first training camp practice July 25, we will break down each position group.

Today, we'll take a look at the offensive line.

Returning players: Matt Kalil, Charlie Johnson, John Sullivan, Brandon Fusco. Phil Loadholt, Joe Berger, Jeff Baca, Mike Remmers, Kevin Murphy

Gone from last season: J'Marcus Webb

New this season: David Yankey (fifth-round pick from Stanford), Vladimir Ducasse (free agent from New York Jets), Antonio Richardson (undrafted free agent from Tennessee), Matt Hall (undrafted free agent from Belhaven), Pierce Burton (undrafted free agent from Mississippi), Austin Wentworth (undrafted free agent from Oklahoma State), Zac Kerin (undrafted free agent from Toledo)

Position coach: Jeff Davidson (fourth season)

Biggest issue: The Vikings' offensive line has been one of the most reliable units on the team for the past two seasons, but after a season when Kalil and Johnson struggled at times on the left side, the group will have to adapt to an offense with a different focus than the one the Vikings have used for the past several seasons. Run blocking has been the forte of this group, and while the line has been decent in pass protection, offensive coordinator Norv Turner's scheme, which will likely have the Vikings throwing more often and further downfield than they did under Bill Musgrave, will require linemen to hold their blocks longer and let plays develop. Kalil, in particular, needs to be better after a subpar follow-up to his Pro Bowl rookie season.

Player to watch: The Vikings were thrilled to see Yankey still available in the fifth round, and the rookie could push for a starting job before too long. He's a mean, physical guard who comes from a school that's produced a number of solid offensive linemen in recent years, and while he's been a left guard -- which might be the most vulnerable position on the Vikings' line -- Yankey has played both guard and tackle spots. His versatility and size (6-foot-6, 315 pounds) could make him a versatile backup, at the very least.

Medical report: Kalil had knee surgery after last season, and was limited to individual drills during the Vikings' organized team activities and minicamp. He's expected to be ready for the start of training camp, however.

Help wanted: The Vikings could look for backup help at tackle, and though they'll be helped by the fact Yankey and Ducasse can line up in a few different spots, it wouldn't be terribly surprising to see them add a veteran backup at some point, like they had in Webb last year.

Quotable: "A lot of the ways that we're doing protections have changed," Davidson said. "There's a lot of nuances that have taken on different responsibilities for everybody within the line. The communication part is very important. That's what we spent an inordinate amount of time on, during the OTAs especially. The run game, there are some changes. I would call them minor tweaks, as compared to what we've done in the pass. Protection-wise is where we've made a substantial change. Some of the adjustments we're making with the protections, that's taken a lot of time."
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings added depth to their roster in the form of another free agent on Monday morning, agreeing to terms with former New York Jets guard Vlad Ducasse on a one-year deal, his agent Joe Linta said.

Ducasse started four games for the Jets last season, losing his job after struggling in pass protection at left guard early in the year, but he gives the Vikings another option at guard behind Charlie Johnson and Brandon Fusco. At 6-foot-5 and 325 pounds, he'll add some size to the Vikings' group of interior linemen, and has historically been more effective as a run-blocker than a pass-blocker.

The Vikings had just over $12 million in cap space left before signing Ducasse. With him, Jeff Baca and Joe Berger under contract, the Vikings should have plenty of interior line depth for next season.

Vikings re-sign Charlie Johnson

March, 15, 2014
Mar 15
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The Vikings will have their entire offensive line intact for a third consecutive season. They agreed with left guard Charlie Johnson on a two-year, $5 million deal on Saturday, according to a league source.

Johnson, who turns 30 in May, had a subpar year with the Vikings in 2013; Pro Football Focus held him responsible for four sacks, and he struggled at times to pick up blitzers. He'd been a solid cog in the Vikings' line in 2012, when Adrian Peterson ran for 2,097 yards, and the Vikings evidently wanted to keep the group together by re-signing Johnson.

It seemed possible the team would try to draft a young lineman, or work second-year man Jeff Baca into the lineup. That could still happen, though Johnson's contract likely gives him the benefit of the doubt in the early part of the team's evaluation process. The Vikings had been giving players roster bonuses in lieu of big signing bonuses this week, to push most of the cap charges onto this season's books, and it seems likely they did that again with Johnson. We'll see how the contract looks when the details are available, but the guess here is the Vikings left themselves some flexibility for 2015, in case a young player overtakes Johnson.

The team had restructured the contracts of Chad Greenway, Jamarca Sanford and Jerome Felton to clear an extra $1.75 million in cap space, and had just over $16 million left in cap space, not counting the contract of wide receiver Jerome Simpson, before signing Johnson.
MINNEAPOLIS -- We're continuing on with our position-by-position outlook at the Minnesota Vikings' roster. Today: the guards/centers.

OFFENSIVE GUARDS/CENTERS


2014 free agents: Charlie Johnson, Joe Berger.

The good: The Vikings have a stable offensive line, even if the group as a whole regressed from the way it played in 2012. Center John Sullivan had a rough start to the season, but recovered to perform well in the second half, and guard Brandon Fusco seemed to show signs of development at times, particularly as a run blocker. Fusco is the kind of road grader the Vikings need at guard, to open holes for Adrian Peterson, and the running back gained 796 of his 1,266 yards going up the middle or running behind Fusco's right guard spot, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

The bad: Left guard Charlie Johnson struggled in his second year as a starter, getting beat on a number of blitzes and failing to open holes for Peterson. Pro Football Focus ranked him the worst guard in the NFC North, and Johnson gave up four sacks after allowing just one in 2012. He is scheduled to hit free agency just before he turns 30 in May, and depending on how they feel about their depth, the Vikings might look for a new starter at left guard.

The money (2014 salary-cap numbers): Sullivan ($4.75 million), Fusco ($668,556), Jeff Baca ($519,150). The Vikings will have to decide whether or not to bring back Berger, who carried just a $620,000 cap figure last season and proved to be a reliable backup at both guard and center. They wanted to see Baca grab hold of the swing spot on the interior line, but the rookie never seemed to grasp it.

Draft priority: Moderate. Though they probably won't take one in the first couple rounds, it wouldn't be surprising at all to see the Vikings use a mid-round pick on a guard. They could be in need of depth at the position, and if they decide to move on from Johnson, they might look for a rookie they can plug in. With two picks in the third round, the Vikings could close Day 2 of the draft by adding a guard.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- While the Vikings are waiting to see whether running backs Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart are able to play Sunday, they'll have to figure out how to handle one of the league's hottest offenses with a secondary that is looking increasingly thin.

Cook
Cornerback Xavier Rhodes is doubtful for Sunday's game against the Philadelphia Eagles with a sprained ankle, coach Leslie Frazier said Friday, and cornerback Chris Cook showed up on the Vikings' injury report for the first time Friday with a knee injury that limited him in practice. The oft-injured cornerback is listed as questionable, and if both he and Rhodes were to miss the game, it would leave the Vikings without their top three cornerbacks Sunday.

Frazier said he would likely start Marcus Sherels in place of Rhodes, but he would have to figure out another plan if Cook were unable to go. The Vikings have been using safety Robert Blanton at cornerback, and he would likely play there Sunday. Shaun Prater is also healthy, and the Vikings have cornerbacks Kip Edwards and Robert Steeples on their practice squad. They also worked out several cornerbacks this week, Frazier said.

"When we’re getting as thin as we are, everybody is a candidate to be moved around," Frazier said. "So you don’t rule out any possibilities at this point."

The Vikings have the league's second-worst defense this season as it is, and with so many players missing in the secondary, they could be easy prey for Eagles quarterback Nick Foles on Sunday.

In other Vikings injury news:
  • Gerhart did some work in practice Friday, though Frazier said the Vikings didn't test his quickness as much as his overall stride. They will continue to evaluate him Saturday and possibly Sunday. "To get out there and move around, I felt pretty good," Gerhart said. "We'll take it day-to-day, keep getting treatment, keep evaluating and see what happens."
  • Tight end John Carlson will miss Sunday's game with a concussion, leaving the Vikings with only Rhett Ellison and Chase Ford at the position.
  • Cornerback Josh Robinson (fractured sternum) is still out.
  • Guard Brandon Fusco (knee) did not practice Friday and is doubtful for Sunday's game, though Frazier said Fusco "has a chance" to play. The Vikings had guard Jeff Baca -- who has been inactive for all but one game this season -- working in Joe Berger's special-teams spot Friday, indicating they would likely put Berger at Fusco's right guard spot.
  • Linebackers Larry Dean (knee) and Chad Greenway (wrist) are probable for Sunday's game. Greenway, who has been playing with a broken wrist all season, said he has been able to function better now that he's playing with a pad on both sides of his wrist, rather than a full cast, and sounded optimistic Friday that he wouldn't need surgery to set the bone after the season.

Vikings: Inactives on a snowy day

December, 8, 2013
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BALTIMORE -- Hello from a snowy M&T Bank Stadium, where we're just over an hour from kickoff between the Vikings and Ravens. There's snow expected throughout the afternoon, with a chance of it turning to sleet at some point. In any case, the field figures to be slippery today, so the Vikings could find an advantage with Adrian Peterson.

There are no surprises with the Vikings' inactives today; Christian Ponder is out, of course, with Matt Cassel starting at quarterback and Josh Freeman backing him up. Peterson, who was questionable for the game with a strained groin -- but always expected to play -- will start.

Here is the full list of Vikings inactives:

No surprises among Vikings' inactives

December, 1, 2013
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Hello from the Metrodome, where the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears will face off in this building for the 32nd and final time. The Bears played one playoff game here in 1994, and after the Metrodome roof collapsed in 2010, the 2010 matchup was transferred to TCF Bank Stadium, where Brett Favre suffered a concussion on the frozen field and played his final snaps in the NFL. The next time these two teams face off in Minneapollis, they'll be back at that stadium -- but the Vikings will have paid for a heating system at the University of Minnesota's stadium by then.

At any rate, there are no major surprises with the Vikings' inactives today; Josh Freeman is once again inactive as the Vikings' third quarterback, and all of the players who were probable for today's game will play. Audie Cole will officially start at middle linebacker for Erin Henderson, whose Nov. 19 arrest became public this week, and Xavier Rhodes will again line up at left cornerback for Josh Robinson.

Here is the Vikings' full list of inactives:
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Hello from Lambeau Field on the kind of chilly morning worthy of John Facenda narration; it's expected to be 19 degrees at 1 p.m. ET, when the Vikings face off against the Green Bay Packers for the fifth time in the past 12 months. And as the Vikings try to end a four-game losing streak in Green Bay, they'll have both running back Adrian Peterson and wide receiver Greg Jennings on the field.

Both players were questionable for Sunday's game -- Peterson with a strained groin, Jennings with a strained right Achilles tendon -- but both are on the active roster. Peterson and Jennings had both said they would play, but Jennings was probable for last Sunday's game in Seattle, too, and wound up on the inactive list.

He said this week he felt fresh after not playing last Sunday, and he'll get to start against his former team. In fact, it seems the Vikings will start both of their regular receivers today; they didn't announce a lineup change at receiver, which should mean Jerome Simpson is back in the lineup after the Vikings didn't start him in Seattle following his drunken driving arrest. We'll see how much they use Simpson in relation to Cordarrelle Patterson today -- and how much the cold temperatures affect their passing game -- but at the moment, it appears the Vikings might be done disciplining Simpson.

Here is the Vikings' full list of inactives:

Josh Freeman inactive for Vikings

November, 3, 2013
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ARLINGTON, Tex. -- Hello from AT&T Stadium, where the Vikings will try to get their second win of the year this afternoon against the Dallas Cowboys. Now that inactives are official and we have a couple lineup changes, we can tie up a couple loose ends from this week.

Freeman
First, Josh Freeman will be inactive today, as Matt Cassel backs up Christian Ponder. The Vikings worked with Ponder, then Cassel, then Freeman taking practice snaps all week, and that order turned out to be a good indicator of the depth chart for today. Some of you have been asking on Twitter why the Vikings are making Freeman inactive again, but if he's still trying to handle the Vikings' offense while coming off a concussion, do you really want him stepping into a game in relief on the road? If the Vikings are indeed trying to manage the process by which they bring Freeman along after rushing him into their lineup last month against the New York Giants, they might as well not leave anything to chance.

Also, Xavier Rhodes will start at right cornerback for the Vikings in place of Chris Cook, who is out today with a strained hip muscle. The Vikings had previously been unwilling to put Rhodes on the right side because it would take him out of his routine of playing left cornerback in the nickel. The Vikings figure to spend plenty of time in nickel against the Cowboys' prolific passing game, though, so it will be interesting to see how they line things up when they have three cornerbacks on the field.

In addition to Cook and Freeman, Jamarca Sanford, Rhett Ellison, Fred Evans, Matt Asiata and Jeff Baca are inactive today. Defensive tackle Chase Baker is active for just the second time this year, and both wide receiver Rodney Smith and cornerback Shaun Prater will play today.
MINNEAPOLIS -- There are no major surprises among the Minnesota Vikings' inactives for Sunday night's game against the Green Bay Packers, but Josh Freeman is officially out with a concussion. He was ruled out on the Vikings' injury report on Friday, and was one of the team's seven inactives for the game.

Wide receiver Rodney Smith (hip), running back Matt Asiata (shoulder) and tight end Rhett Ellison (ankle) are the other Vikings players missing the game with an injury. Ellison is a key run blocker for the Vikings, and the team promoted tight end Chase Ford from the practice squad to make up for Ellison's absence. He is active for the game, as is fourth-round pick Gerald Hodges, who has had a tough time getting on the field so far this season.

Here is the Vikings' full list of inactives:

Raymond, Hodges make debuts

September, 29, 2013
9/29/13
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LONDON -- Hello from Wembley Stadium, where we're about an hour from kickoff between the Vikings and Steelers. We already knew four of the Vikings' seven inactives on Friday, with Chris Cook, Jamarca Sanford, Rhett Ellison and Christian Ponder out, and the absences of Cook and Sanford helped put a pair of defensive players -- veteran safety Mistral Raymond and rookie linebacker Gerald Hodges -- on the active game-day roster for the first time this season.

Raymond was one of the Vikings' two starting safeties at the beginning of last season, but a persistent ankle injury opened up a chance for Sanford to take his starting spot, which he hasn't given back. Now that Sanford is out with a hamstring injury, Raymond will at least have a chance to re-assert himself, though the fact Andrew Sendejo will start in Sanford's place probably shows how far Raymond has fallen in the Vikings' eyes.

Hodges, the Vikings' fourth-round draft pick, hasn't found his way onto the field yet. I'd expect to see him mostly on special teams today, where he'd likely join former Penn State teammate Michael Mauti.

In addition to Sanford, Cook, Ellison and Ponder, defensive linemen Chase Baker and George Johnson and guard Jeff Baca are inactive for the Vikings.

Three rookies sit for Vikings

September, 8, 2013
9/08/13
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DETROIT -- We already knew Kevin Williams would sit out the Vikings' 2013 season opener against the Detroit Lions, but the 32-year-old tackle will be accompanied in street clothes by three Vikings rookies -- linebackers Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti, and guard Jeff Baca.

Mauti could have factored in on special teams, but the Vikings have enough other linebackers -- Audie Cole and Larry Dean among them -- who can help there that the rookie will have to wait at least another week to get back into a game that counts for something. His last meaningful action came last November, when he tore his ACL for the third time in college against Indiana. Hodges wore his teammate's No. 42 in the Lions' final home game, and the rest of Mauti's teammates wore a decal with his number on their helmets, to thank him for his leadership in the wake of NCAA sanctions.

Safety Mistral Raymond also sits for the Vikings, after beginning last season as a starter. There aren't many surprises in the rest of the Vikings' inactive list. Here is the full group:
One other note on Williams: With the veteran out, Letroy Guion moves from the nose tackle to three-technique spot and gets the start today, with Fred Evans at the nose. We'll see plenty of Sharrif Floyd today, but the Vikings are trying to ease the rookie into his first NFL game, especially after he missed the team's final two preseason games after a knee operation.

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