Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Training Camp Position Preview: Offensive Tackle

Daniel House continues the position preview series and analyzes the offensive tackle position. Aside from Phil Loadholt and Matt Kalil, who could challenge for the backup tackle spot? 

Updated: July 1st, 2014 11:55am

By: Daniel House

Vikings GM Rick Spielman has placed a heavy emphasis on selecting offensive line talent through the draft. Spielman has drafted nine offensive lineman in his seven seasons with the Minnesota Vikings organization. He has secured the edges of the Vikings offensive line by adding Phil Loadholt in 2009 and Matt Kalil in 2012. Both are young, are under contract for several years, and are strong pieces to build around in the future. The only attribute that is needed from the two Vikings starters is consistency. Loadholt had his moments as a pass blocker and Kalil battled a high amount of injuries in 2013. If they can display a high level of consistency, the Vikings can focus on developing the interior of the offensive line. In the event Loadholt or Kalil went down with injury, what depth did the Vikings add behind them? Let's take a look.

Matt Kalil: No player on the Vikings offensive line was more disappointing than Matt Kalil last season. Early in the preseason, he struggled and it continued throughout the 2013 season. He had issues in pass blocking, specifically at initiating contact in a quick fashion with defensive lineman. His first step was extremely slow out of his stance and we all shook our heads. We later found out the former rookie pro-bowler played most of the season with a right knee injury in 2013. This could explain some of his struggles, but he won't use this as an excuse. He has spent the entire offseason working to improve his game in many different avenues. We know a player like Matt Kalil won't be satisfied with mediocre play and will fix the issues that plagued him last season.

Phil Loadholt: Phil Loadholt is proving he is worth the high contract the Vikings awarded him last season. Loadholt was the second-ranked overall tackle on Pro Football Focus' list in 2013. He was penalized just three times last season and he graded negatively in run blocking in just three games last year, according to Pro Football Focus. He has become a solid right tackle who is more than good enough to pass protect and generate run blocking skills at the second level. He was able to stay healthy last season and missed just one game in 2013. If he can fight the injury bug and work to stay on the field for a full 16-game slate, he can take his game to the top.

Antonio Richardson: Antonio Richardson was graded as a 2nd or 3rd round pick by CBS Sports prior to the NFL draft. Of course, Richardson went undrafted and fell into the laps of the Minnesota Vikings following the NFL draft. Concerns about arthritic knees involving his cartilage, caused him to tumble out of team's draft boards. Some training staffs in the league felt he could only have a four or five year career in the league. The Vikings have one of the best athletic training staffs in the league, making Minnesota one of the perfect fits for 'Tiny' Richardson to land. Richardson is a massive man and measures in at 6'6" and 336 pounds. For a player with his size, he has incredible athleticism, agility, and power. He has struggled at times when he is bull-rushed, which means he needs to be more savvy with his technique. This is something that can easily be corrected and if Richardson can stay healthy, don't be surprised if he becomes the main backup behind Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt.

Kevin Murphy: It seems like Kevin Murphy has been within the Minnesota Vikings organization for a millennium. In reality, he has been with the Vikings for just two seasons, but has spent time on and off the practice squad. In preseason action, Murphy has been destroyed in the pass blocking aspect of things. I like him as a run blocker and he has some solid technique, but he has no awareness. The Vikings added depth at the tackle position in undrafted free agency because they evidently felt Murphy wasn't a viable option.

Mike Remmers: Mike Remmers spent a year on the Bucs practice squad and part of the 2013 campaign with the Chargers, before a 4-game stint with the Vikings last year. Remmers has some developmental skills and is a massive frame at 6'5" 300 pounds. Only one of these tackles behind Loadholt and Kalil will make this team because of the depth at the interior offensive line positions. Remmers seems like a long-shot, but things could change if Antonio Richardson isn't healthy.

Pierce Burton: The Vikings signed Pierce Burton as an undrafted rookie out of Ole Miss. He has some interesting skills that I will be watching closely in Mankato at training camp. He is a very solid run blocker, but he needs to work at getting to the second level of the defense. He is a more effective pass blocker and it easily is his top skill. He isn't very quick on his feet, but he has a nice build as an offensive tackle. Burton has made huge strides over the last two years in college and it will be interesting to see if offensive line coach Jeff Davidson can develop him into at least a practice squad product this season.

With all of this said, it appears Antonio Richardson is the leading candidate to win the one backup offensive tackle position. This all could change in the blink of an eye if Richardson is deemed unhealthy, but early indications appear everything has checked out with him. One of these players on this list will make the practice squad and it will likely be a three horse race between Murphy, Burton, and Remmers. As I mentioned, 'Tiny' Richardson's health holds the key to how the Vikings offensive tackle depth will be formulated.

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