The 2022 season is less than a month away and it’s time to get excited Vikings fans.
In a similar vein to how fans felt when Mike Zimmer took over for Leslie Frazier, the excitement is palpable for the beginning of the Kevin O’Connell era.
While the team prepares for the season, we are doing the same at the Vikings Wire. We will be producing previews breaking down both each position and the team as a whole.
Today, we continue with our preview series by talking about the interior offensive line.
Starter: Ezra Cleveland
Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Ezra Cleveland (72) defends during an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
When Cleveland was drafted, the thought process was that he was going to replace Riley Reiff as the starting left tackle. A star at Boise State, he was the most athletic tackle prospect to have ever come out per Relative Athletic Score and his closest comparison was Brian O’Neill.
When the decision was made to move him inside to guard, there were a lot of skeptics. He was a slender, athletic tackle that didn’t seem to have the right skillset to play guard. Over the past two seasons, he changed that line of thinking.
With Cleveland becoming a solid guard, the Vikings now have three quality lineman you can rely on.
Starter: Garrett Bradbury
Minnesota Vikings center Garrett Bradbury (56) is tackled by Green Bay Packers safety Adrian Amos (31) and free safety Darnell Savage (26) after scooping up a fumble on Sunday, January 2, 2022, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. Wm. Glasheen USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
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The first-round pick from 2019 still has a lot to prove.
While he was viewed as an NFL-ready center, the hope was that Bradbury could develop strength in his lower half and develop an anchor. Unfortunately, he hasn’t developed that aspect of his game.
Bradbury has finished outside of the top-25 in pass protection grades per PFF in each of his three seasons, including multiple games with a pass-blocking grade of 0.0.
Yes, you read that correctly.
The positive side for Bradbury is that the Rams last season maximized their center Brian Allen, who has the same deficiencies that Bradbury does.
Going into training camp, head coach Kevin O’Connell made it clear that if Bradbury struggled, the Vikings would look to bring in competition at the position. If he struggles early on, don’t be surprised to see that happen.
On the flip side, if O’Connell is able to scheme around his deficiencies, the biggest flaw on the Vikings offense will matter a whole lot less.
Starter: Ed Ingram
Aug 20, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Ty Chandler (32) celebrates with Minnesota Vikings guard Ed Ingram (67) after scoring a touchdown during the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports
Much has been made about the right guard position, as it has been an issue for years. Selecting one at pick 59 out of LSU, Ingram might finally be the solution.
Over the course of the preseason, Ingram was a dominant force. He was consistently moving people in the running game and stout in pass protection. Yes, he made a mistake in allowing a sack to Javon Kinlaw, but it was a simple overset that caused it.
The fun part about Ingram’s game is that he’s an imposing, nasty blocker. Oftentimes, the protection has Ingram not blocking anyone. When that happens, Ingram gets into full-on attack mode and finds somebody to lay out.
The tough part about Ingram is the allegations that were levied against him while at LSU. Strictly as a player, don’t be surprised if Ingram ends up a Pro Bowler sooner than later.
Backup: Austin Schlottman
Aug 20, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kellen Mond (11) calls out a play during the third quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports
Schlottmann is a standard backup center in a zone scheme.
The best way to describe him is a dollar store Garrett Bradbury: athletic, reach blocker in the running game but doesn’t have the sand in his pants to anchor well enough in the passing game.
He performed well in the preseason earning him the backup job. If Schlottmann has to play an extended period of time, there is a high probability that he’s worse than Bradbury.
Backup: Chris Reed
Jul 28, 2022; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings guard Chris Reed (62) performs a drill during training camp at TCO Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports
An injury really stunted Reed during training camp. Otherwise, we might be talking about him as the starting right guard or even the starting center.
Brought over from Indianapolis this offseason, Reed came in highly regarded as a solid offensive lineman. With the flexibility to play both guard spots, Reed started taking reps at center as a precaution.
Considering the players that the Vikings have brought in to play guard over the last few seasons, Reed is arguably the best of the bunch and will be a great sixth offensive lineman off the bench.