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Friday, July 9, 2010
Minnesota Vikings' weakness: O-line

By Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson

I am not sold on the Vikings’ secondary -- either at corner or safety -- but I gave the offensive line the slight nod here as Minnesota’s most gaping weak spot. Of course, if Brett Favre decides not to return to the Vikings, the weakness at quarterback would immediately exceed any other.

Speaking of Favre, I contend that he makes his pass-blockers look better than they truly are. Favre has a tremendous feel for getting the ball out and moves around the pocket extremely well to buy time for his target to gain separation. But overall, the pass protection is adequate, even though I think the left side of the line is now overrated and Favre was sacked 34 times last year. But the Vikings’ run blocking is a massive problem.

Well, let’s clarify that. Steve Hutchinson didn’t play like Steve Hutchinson in 2009. A back problem could have been the reason, but at 32 years old, it could be the time when this potential future Hall of Famer begins his inevitable decline. But the film last year doesn’t resemble the film that Hutchinson used to compile. I will reserve judgment on him and am looking forward to watching Hutchinson in the preseason.

But Bryant McKinnie is nowhere near a Pro Bowl player in my eyes. He has ability and obviously has rare size to protect the edge, but I also think his movement skills are probably overrated. As a run-blocker, McKinnie’s height can be used against him, as he can struggle to gain proper leverage. Like Hutchinson -- and really the line as a whole -- McKinnie was better in protection than in run blocking by an extremely wide margin. McKinnie’s effort on a play-by-play basis also can come into question.

Right tackle Phil Loadholt fits the same description. Like McKinnie, his height could be a problem when sinking to strike a smaller man with a rising blow. Improvement in Year 2 is not out of the question, but as a pure right tackle, Minnesota needs better run blocking from the massive Loadholt. The two starting tackles also don’t handle top speed rushers very well.

Center John Sullivan was a major step down from Matt Birk in his first season as a starter and Anthony Herrera really is what he is at this point of his career, which is a borderline starting-caliber right guard. Sullivan is young and there is room for improvement, but I don’t see that happening with Herrera. Herrera does play hard and has some nastiness to him, though. Neither of these starting linemen played well last year.

The Vikings are also without a key backup, Artis Hicks, who’s now a Redskin. Although there is concern with each member of the starting five, the depth is very worrisome as well. Ryan Cook is the top backup and can help at just about any spot on the line, but he also is a bit of a jack-of-all-trades, but a master of none. Cook can fill in, but would get exposed if forced to start a handful of games in a row at any of the five positions.