MINNEAPOLIS -- After the Minnesota Vikings signed former Cincinnati Bengals tackle Andre Smith on Thursday as another piece in their offensive line renovation, we'll spend a good chunk of this week's Twitter mailbag focused on the state of the line and how it could look in 2016.
@GoesslingESPN: Good morning, everyone -- hope your brackets are still in working order after Day 1. You all flooded the mailbag this week with questions about the offensive line, and with the Vikings' recent additions to the group, we'll get started there. Jeremy, I think this is a great question because it's a reminder of the reality that most of us aren't considering right now. It's quite possible the Vikings have done nothing more than increase their number of seasoned offensive linemen who, at this point in their careers, are no better than average. I certainly think there's a chance that's where the Vikings' offensive line will end up, and while we won't have a full answer to that question until the fall, I think it's safe to say the Vikings' recent moves haven't unearthed a second version of the Dallas Cowboys' offensive line of the 1990s. I'll say this, though: Given where the Vikings' offensive line has been the last two years, wouldn't average be a big improvement? At this point, the Vikings deserve credit for not sitting idly by and assuming their offensive line will improve with a new position coach and the return of a couple of injured veterans. They're giving themselves as many options as possible, and basically creating a survival-of-the-fittest system where the better players should stand out. I'm not convinced that the players the Vikings have, even in fierce competition, will form a dominant offensive front. If the Vikings can pull something in the realm of competent from the group, though, it'd represent a major upgrade from where they've been.
@GoesslingESPN: At this point -- and I say this with no better source than common sense, since I doubt even the Vikings know some of these answers yet -- I'd expect the line to look like this if everyone is healthy:
LT: Matt Kalil
LG: Alex Boone
RG: Brandon Fusco
RT: Andre Smith
There are some obvious caveats here -- particularly around how Sullivan's back will hold up once the Vikings put on pads and get into game action -- but this configuration would put a pair of nasty guards on either side of the center. It should, if nothing else, improve the Vikings' ability to move people out of the way in the middle of the line and create holes for Adrian Peterson. I had one coach tell me he thought it was a miracle Peterson ran for 1,475 yards last year, considering the state of the line, and there's little doubt the Vikings believe they can get more out of Peterson if they fix what's in front of him. There's still no real backup for Kalil -- perhaps Boone could play left tackle in a pinch, or Carter Bykowski can return from a torn pectoral muscle. But there should be no need for motivation for Kalil; he's effectively competing against players who aren't currently on the roster, and he's got a multi-year deal at stake. There should be little doubt about what he stands to gain -- or lose -- this season, and if the Vikings are ever going to see Kalil get back to the Pro Bowl standard he established as rookie, the time is this season.
If O-line is fixed at some point, do we see Rudolph being an option in passing game as opposed to helping out in pass blocking. #VikingsMail— andrewbauer (@shelbemustang2) March 17, 2016
@GoesslingESPN: There's no doubt the Vikings' instability on the offensive line affected how they used Kyle Rudolph last season, particularly in the first half of the year. But toward the end of the year, I think we saw Rudolph get closer to the kind of role the Vikings might have for him in the future. He caught 26 passes for 313 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the final six games of the regular season, and it was clear he'd developed a rapport with Teddy Bridgewater. Extrapolate those numbers over a full season (always a dangerous game, I know, but hey -- it's March!), and Rudolph has 69 catches for 834 yards and five touchdowns. That's much closer to the type of production the Vikings envisioned when they gave Rudolph a five-year contract extension in 2014, and if the Vikings can protect Bridgewater in 2016, Rudolph stands to benefit more than almost anyone else on the roster. Bridgewater would have more time to find his targets, and Rudolph could spend more time as one of those targets than as a blocker.
@GoesslingESPN: To me, the question is not whether a receiver is raw as a route-runner coming out of college. Any team is going to face some of that with a rookie, particularly with the number of receivers coming to the league from spread offenses. The issue is whether a receiver is capable of mastering the nuances of being a receiver in the NFL. That's what we haven't seen from Cordarrelle Patterson yet -- though he's worked with a route-running coach this offseason -- and it's one of the things the Vikings would have to evaluate about any receiver they might take near the top of the draft. I'm not completely convinced they'd take one in the first round, since there's some depth at the position, but if the Vikings did opt for a wideout early in the draft, they'd likely take a project if they felt the player was willing to work and able to learn. Veteran receivers coach George Stewart is certainly capable of molding young players into productive receivers; it's just that the Vikings need to be sure the player has the capacity to grow, like Stefon Diggs did as a rookie. If that happens, I don't think raw route-running skills are necessarily a non-starter.
We'll wrap it up there. Thanks for all the great questions, everyone. Enjoy your weekend, and we'll talk next week.