Mon, 12 Apr 2021

Monday Morning Mailbag: Re-Signing of Dozier & O-Line Options

Minnesota Vikings
06 Apr 2021, 04:37 GMT+10

Eric Smith

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What is the reason Dakota Dozier was brought back? It has to be something other than his performance. Are we simply going to use his return for a reason not to pick an offensive lineman in the draft? I also think [Offensive Line Coach/Run Game Coordinator Rick] Dennison's performance has been in question for some time now. Does Dozier's return mark some sort of newfound confidence in Dennison? Please give us some renewed confidence in this year's free agency. We were looking so good until someone made this decision on Dozier.

- Lloyd Gossman

Do you think the Vikings front office is aware of how much this move alienates fans who watched Dozier fail for 16 consecutive games last season? I follow the Vikings addictively from 10,000 miles away, but I can't support a team that continues to make the same error. The man has never played to a high standard, is too old to improve, and was sub-NFL standard all last season. Why?

- Rob E. in New Zealand

The Vikings announced that Dozier had re-signed on Wednesday afternoon. And within 24 hours, I received more emails about him than the amount of emails I usually get on average during the week.

So, let's dive into the decision to bring back Dozier, and what it means for the Vikings in 2021.

To start, it's no secret that Dozier struggled at times during the 2020 season. He started all 16 games for the first time in his career, and while he did have some strong moments (go back and watch him on Dalvin Cook's 50-yard touchdown on a screen pass at Lambeau Field), there were also plenty of forgettable moments.

He wasn't graded well by analytics website Pro Football Focus, but even if you take them out of the equation, he simply got beat too many times in pass protection.

So, why bring him back? For one, he knows the Vikings offensive system and is familiar with Vikings Dennison. Remember that the two were together in 2018 with the Jets before they both landed in Minnesota for the past two seasons. Also keep in mind Dennison's impact on the run game that helped the Vikings rank fifth in rushing yards, sixth in rushing scores and fourth in yards per rush last season.

Dozier was serviceable in 2019 in Purple, starting four games (three at right guard) and playing 362 total offensive snaps. Perhaps he is better suited for that role than being a full-time starter like 2020 when he played all 1,082 of Minnesota's offensive snaps.

But the end of Lloyd's email really struck me where he said "we were looking so good until someone made this decision on Dozier."

What guarantee is there that Dozier will be the starter again or on the roster come September? He is among the options at left guard, a group that also includes the newly acquired Mason Cole.

But let's say the Vikings draft a star left guard in the first round of the draft, or even find a steal at that spot in the second or third round (depending on a potential trade)?

If that happens, it's likely that Dozier isn't starting, and is either viewed as a solid backup who can fill in if needed like in 2019, or he isn't on the roster if the Vikings want to go younger and give someone like Kyle Hinton a chance to fill a void as a reserve interior lineman.

To close, Dozier was also signed on the cheap. The Vikings didn't break the bank to bring him back, and I view it as a low-risk move. Just because he is on the roster now doesn't mean he'll be in the starting lineup.

In fact, the only person I would pencil in to a for-sure spot is Garrett Bradbury at center. The other starters from a season ago (Brian O'Neill and Ezra Cleveland) could be looking at potential position changes. The NFL is optimistic about having parts of the offseason program on the field this spring, so that would be our first glimpse at the Vikings plans, but we've still got a while before the pads go on in training camp.

My tweet below pretty much sums up my overall thoughts on where the Vikings stand today, on April 5, with their offensive line. And the hope is that unit has fallen into place in a month once free agency and the draft have come to a close.

Have the Vikings ever considered moving Garrett Bradbury to guard? He seems to struggle with bull-rushing linemen. But with his excellent athleticism, I think he would be a great guard, and this year's draft appears to have a few burly centers.

- Joe in South Dakota

And speaking of Bradbury, Joe wonders about him changing positions like O'Neill and Cleveland might possibly do.

But I would scratch that idea pretty quick. You don't move a first-round pick who is entering his third season, especially when there could be so many other moving parts around him.

Joe is correct that there are some great center prospects in the 2021 NFL Draft, including Landon Dickerson (Alabama), Creed Humphrey (Oklahoma) and Quinn Meinerz (Wisconsin-Whitewater).

But the Vikings likely need to focus on the guards and tackles spots over the next few weeks, including in the draft.

I think it would make great sense for the Vikings to trade up in the draft in order to get an offensive lineman of the decade in Penei Sewell. I don't see any weaknesses in his game. He's a ferocious run blocker and an amazing athlete who could protect our quarterback's blind side for the next 10 or 12 years. I could see us giving up this year's and next year's first rounders as well as a couple more mid-round picks. He'd be well worth it. Your thoughts?

- Philip Balzano

I'm guessing Philip saw ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper, Jr.'s, most-recent mock draft (which you can find here), that had Minnesota trading up from No. 14 to No. 9 spot to get Sewell, a star offensive lineman from Oregon.

Kiper noted in his description that he expects this move to cost "at least Minnesota's second-rounder in 2022 and likely more." I'd put myself in the "likely more" camp, mostly because top-10 picks are coveted across the league.

Would the Vikings do it? It likely depends on the asking price, which in this case would come from Broncos General Manager George Paton, who will be running his first draft after working his way up to the Vikings assistant general manager role.

You would almost need to see how the board fell at that spot before deciding on the deal. Trading up to get a player like Sewell could be tempting, but if other linemen such as Rashawn Slater (Northwestern), Christian Darrisaw (Virginia Tech) or Alijah Vera-Tucker (Southern California) are still available, maybe the Vikings would choose to stand pat and save those future picks.

The buzz around the draft will only build in the coming weeks. And be sure to stay tuned to Vikings.com starting this week for in-depth coverage and analysis on every position group before the fun begins on April 29.

We could definitely use better press coverage rather than soft zone coverage. We should also use Anthony Barr as a pass rusher like Von Miller.

- Ryan Johnson in Loveland, Colorado

A big takeaway from Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer's media availability last week was that he is tinkering with Minnesota's defensive scheme this offseason to adapt to what opposing offenses have done in recent seasons.

Here's part of what he said on Wednesday:

"The No. 1 thing that we want to do on defense is we want to play fast. We want to play physical. We don't want to be thinking," Zimmer said. "And the offenses lately have been getting us to think because we've had to adjust here and adjust there and do this and do that, and some of these things we've talked about, and it's just too hard to implement during the season."

We'll have to wait until the team actually unveils these changes in a game to see what Zimmer really means. But it sounds like changes are coming to Zimmer's unit.

As for Barr, it seems there is always offseason chatter about having him rush the passer more, only for the Vikings to use the ultra-athletic linebacker to try and create mismatches for the defense.

Remember when Barr sacked Matt Ryan on the Vikings very first defensive play of the 2019 season? He only tallied 0.5 sacks in the next 928 snaps for the rest of the season, instead being used as a versatile chess piece all over the field.

Barr has routinely worked with Minnesota's defensive linemen in recent offseasons with hand placement and pass rushing moves. There's a chance he could do that again in training camp, but recent history shows us that he'll be asked to do a bit of everything on defense and not primarily focus on rushing the passer.

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