The Minnesota Vikings filled six coaching vacancies this offseason, yet, it was the decision to keep one coach that has been the biggest storyline that’s vexed the Vikings.
Former offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak installed his zone-run, play-action-driven scheme that worked wonders for Minnesota, which finished fourth in total offense last season. Kubiak retired this offseason, leaving the keys to his son, Klint Kubiak, who will steer the Vikings offense in 2021.
Minnesota opted to keep Kubiak’s longtime partner, run-game coordinator and offensive line coach Rick Dennison around — a decision that has drawn some criticism among fans.
The Vikings offensive line has remained a bane to the team’s success for over a decade for its struggles in pass protection and keeping Dennison, along with a lack of cap space, offers little optimism that the trend will turn around any time soon.
InsidetheVikings’ Will Ragatz raised several concerns facing Dennison’s line as is. Meanwhile, several strong replacements are sitting without work currently.
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Vikings Offensive Line Regressed With Dennison
While the Vikings offensive line was part of the team’s success, especially in helping Dalvin Cook rack up over 1,500 rushing yards last season, the unit was horrendous in pass protection.
The team has been built to run the ball, however, that doesn’t mean pass protection needs to be compromised to have success on the ground.
Minnesota made a run to the 2018 NFC Championship game with an offensive line that was middling at best, ranking 17th in pass protection. For the past three seasons, the line has regressed. Dennison took over the unit in 2019 after it ranked 27th in pass protection in 2018 — a mark it matched in 2019 — before producing the fourth-worst pass protection grade in 2020.
Ragatz weighed blame on both Dennison and Kubiak’s scheme. Here’s what he wrote:
As I mentioned, blame can be put on the Kubiak scheme, which is outdated in its focuses on running the football and rarely ever using 11 personnel (three wide receivers on the field at once). The front office, in trying to maximize that scheme, has drafted players like Bradbury whose athleticism is a plus in the running game but whose inability to pass block has hindered the Vikings in a major way. The focus on “scheme fit” among offensive line prospects has frustrated fans because it seems to prioritize mobility over protecting Cousins.
But blame can also be assigned to Dennison for the troubling lack of development among offensive linemen since he arrived. Bradbury doesn’t appear to have taken any meaningful strides since he was drafted. O’Neill regressed slightly in 2020, which may be concerning for the Vikings as they enter into extension talks with his camp this offseason. Day 3 picks like Dru Samia and Oli Udoh haven’t panned out, which may or may not have anything to do with poor coaching. It’s still too early to tell with Cleveland.
Ragatz raised the idea of potentially hiring longtime Green Bay Packers offensive line coach James Campen after he was let go by the Los Angeles Chargers this offseason. Los Angeles Rams offensive line coach Aaron Kromer is also available and rehauled the Rams offensive line.
In his first year with the Rams, the line ranked 13th in pass blocking and fifth in run blocking. The following season, those rankings improved to seventh and first, per Ragatz.
Kromer excelled in coaching the Rams line that played under the same wide zone scheme that the Vikings run, making the possibility of his transition to Minnesota seamless.
Vikings Have Failed to Develop Linemen
If Minnesota does stick with Dennison — which is the most likely case — the Vikings will have to work against its recent history of failing to develop linemen.
Minnesota hasn’t had an offensive lineman make a Pro Bowl since Matt Kalil’s rookie year in 2012. The last lineman to be drafted by the Vikings and make multiple Pro Bowls is Matt Birk, who was drafted in 1998.
Problems with pass protection may not ever be solved with Mike Zimmer at the helm of the team. Since 2014, the Vikings have had one season of middling pass protection that was complimented by the league’s best defense.
Minnesota’s defense is far from its 2017 form, which could likely leave the offense needing to throw just as much as it did in 2020 — a harbinger of struggles if the Vikings don’t find a way to improve the line offseason.
Vikings team pass block grade and rank since 2014:
2014: 72.4 (23rd)
2015: 67.9 (28th)
2016: 64.7 (30th)
2017: 71.9 (17th)
2018: 63.6 (27th)
2019: 63.0 (27th)
2020: 55.5 (29th)
— PFF MIN Vikings (@PFF_Vikings) January 14, 2021
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