'Tweet that': Zimmer, Vikings calm after Nick Easton injury

Mike Zimmer is staying happy and positive despite having three injured offensive line starters from last year. Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire

EAGAN, Minn. -- With Nick Easton headed to injured reserve soon after undergoing surgery Thursday to repair a bulging disc in his neck, Mike Zimmer isn't sounding alarms or placating to the outside panic about the state of Minnesota Vikings' injury-ridden offensive line.

On top of that, he's got jokes.

"I know everybody's nervous about our offensive line but I like the mentality of those guys," Zimmer said. "I like how they work. I'm around them quite a bit. They're going to figure out a way to get it done. Calm is the new ... Tweet that. It's my new saying. We're going to get some ['Tweet that'] on the Mike Zimmer Foundation T-shirts. Tweet that."

Zimmer, of course, is referring to his response to controversial free-agent guard Richie Incognito saying that the Vikings inquired about his services. The Minnesota coach made it clear that there was no truth to Incognito's claims and that the team had absolutely zero interest, reinforced by Zimmer telling reporters to "tweet that."

Being down three starters -- Easton, Pat Elflein (PUP) and Mike Remmers (ankle) -- is undoubtedly concerning, no matter when it happens. Left tackle Riley Reiff is the only member of the first-team offensive line with 16 or more career starts, and the only starter who hasn't experienced injury in camp.

After Saturday's preseason game in Denver, the Vikings might choose to peruse the free-agent market if the offensive line struggles. But the Vikings aren't going to know how their reserves hold up and whether they're ready to become fill-in starters, particularly those now battling for the left guard spot, until they get into a game.

"Much of the offensive line play is like quarterback, where you have players who down the road you know are going to be good players, but they may not be there yet," quarterback Kirk Cousins said. "It takes time, it takes reps, it takes these preseason games. We have to throw them in the fire and get them work, so that they can take those next steps."

The player expected to fill Easton's absence against the Broncos is Tom Compton, a veteran lineman Minnesota had on its radar for years before signing him in free agency. Compton has taken reps at both guard spots in camp, though Zimmer said it was too early to tell on which side he performs best. At guard last season with Chicago, Compton did not allow a sack but gave up four quarterback hits and 10 hurries, according to Pro Football Focus.

"When he was at Washington he played quite a bit, played some of their big package, played some in the offensive line, had multiple positions, so we felt like it'd be good," Zimmer said.

While the majority of Compton's 15 starts have come at right tackle, Zimmer said Minnesota would only swing the 29-year-old outside "in a pinch."

With four weeks left in the preseason, Minnesota will continue to test various personnel groupings to find the best starting combination.

Danny Isidora is another in-house candidate who could fill the void at left guard, depending upon when Remmers returns from his ankle injury. Isidora has taken first-team reps at both left and right guard (where he is currently) and played 147 snaps as a rookie last season.

Zimmer's optimism with some of the younger, inexperienced linemen stems from what he witnesses each day of training camp. While Elflein continues to rehab from offseason shoulder and ankle surgery, practice-squad-turned-first-team center Cornelius Edison has struck Zimmer as a "fighter." He has made the transition to Cousins' cadence and snap count appear seamless, as they have avoided major gaffes.

"He goes against Linval [Joseph] every single day, so that's a pretty good test, usually," Zimmer said. "It'd be nice to see him go against someone else this week. But I think Kirk and him have worked together quite a few days now, so I don't think that will be much of an issue."

Right now, Zimmer can be likened to the internet meme of the dog sitting happily at a kitchen table while the room around him is ablaze. "This is fine," says the thought bubble above the dog's head.

But for Zimmer, who has been through a litany of issues with the offensive line just about every year since he arrived in 2014, this is fine. For now.

Minnesota isn't up against the clock and has the entire preseason to figure out how it wants to sort out its personnel. The timing of Easton's injury puts them in a place where they can continue to experiment shifting pieces around. Former undrafted free agent Aviante Collins moved from tackle to guard this week and carries with him athleticism (third-fastest 40 time run by an offensive lineman at the combine), power and a nasty streak.

Further down the depth chart, former Eagles practice squad member Josh Andrews has taken both center and guard reps, and sixth-round pick Colby Gossett has worked at guard. They, too, might have a chance to earn jobs, particularly as it relates to the Vikings solidifying their depth.

"We're always trying different things, looking for different people," Zimmer said. "We'll see what happens."