Vikings Need to Game Plan Loadholt’s Transition as the O-Line Develops Identity

When the Vikings selected Phil Loadholt from the University of Oklahoma with their second round pick, their intent was to solidify an apparent weakness on the offensive line at the right tackle spot. Starter Ryan Cook, himself a second round selection has struggled greatly in pass protection and didn’t have the physical strength to keep up with guard Anthony Herrera who is considered an up and coming Mauler on the right side of the line.

Towards the end of the 08 season, Cook was so erratic that the need for an upgrade was obvious. Many felt that when Micheal Oher of Mississippi fell into their laps in the first round, the Vikings had their heir apparent.. However, the Vikes went into another direction by selecting WR Percy Harvin instead.

Loadholt, however, intrigued Brad Childress and company. Many pre-draft predictions ( including my own) had them drafting the 6’8” 337 lbs. behemoth in round two. However, many felt that Loadholt would be long gone by the time they made their selection. When he became available at number 54, the Vikings wasted no time in their decision.

In Loadholt, they acquired arguably the best run blocking offensive lineman in the entire draft. He is an absolute road grader, a gigantic pancaking machine. An excellent fit at right tackle, he should be an immediate upgrade over Cook. Probably not quick enough to be an effective left tackle, he should be able to take hold of the right tackle spot and be a potential pro bowler for the next ten years. He improves the entire right side. Herrera will benefit greatly from playing beside him. Peterson will find himself running through holes big enough for Drew Bledsoe to score.

The criticism on Loadholt, is in his pass protection. His feet are big, slow and plodding. He needs to work on his hands to control on rushing linemen. As long as he can lock on to a defensive assailant, he can simply over power them. However, he has trouble with quick linemen with multiple pass rush moves. He also has issues with false starts and holding penalties, again because of his raw technique.

Some of these things can be improved with hard work and good coaching. But the concern with his foot speed might be an ongoing frustration. Thus, especially early in his career, the Vikings will need a plan for success.

Fortunately for the Vikings, the fit again is a good one. Because the Vikings have a tremendous run blocking tight end in Jim Kleinsasser. By placing him at the right of the line in passing situations, Loadholt should be able to comfortably make the transition to the NFL while he develops the techniques necessary to adjust to the much faster NFL game. Kleinsasser can check down on faster defensive ends taking a half step away, thus negating the first step advantage enjoyed by elite left ends, thus allowing Loadholt to “Lock on” to his opponent turning the moment to his advantage and allowing Loadholt to do what he does best. The team no doubt will also plan to use their fullback ( whoever emerges as their best blocking back ) possibly Thomas Tepah, or former tight end turned fullback Jeff Dugan or even Artis Hicks in a William “Refrigerator” Perry type role, in a blocking scheme that aides the right side as well. This should also help Herrera who will no longer have to shift attention from the interior to the outside. This relieving pressure on center John Sullivan who himself is adjusting to a new starting role.

The importance of Loadholt’s transition is paramount to the success of the entire offensive line. If he fails, then Herrera cannot flourish, thus Sullivan’s ultimate success is compromised. In turn, Adrian Peterson will have trouble getting untracked and Tarvaris Jackson or Sage Rosenfels or perhaps even Brett Favre will be unable to stay upright long enough to resurrect the passing game.

Stay tuned to see how Childress and company game plan this issue along with other huge question marks for the upcoming season.

– THIS IS FOOTBALL !!!

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