The injuries across the Vikings offensive line have piled up.
Center Garrett Bradbury missed the last five games with a back injury. He was close to returning to the field, but a minor car accident delayed his rehab. Bradbury played a wonderful season before suffering the injury — by far his best as a pro.
His backup, Austin Schlottmann, left the game in Week 17 in Green Bay with a fractured fibula and is out for the season. He replaced Bradbury with solid play, and the Vikings had to insert third-stringer Chris Reed, a veteran guard without any center experience. He struggled initially, but a week of practice cleaned up most of his issues.
Vikings Could Get 2 Linemen Back for Playoff Run
Just a few minutes after Schlottmann’s injury, right tackle Brian O’Neill left the game with a partially torn Achilles tendon — a devastating injury for an athlete. The Vikings replaced him with backup offensive tackle Oli Udoh. The 2019 sixth-rounder started as a guard last season, a regrettable decision by the coaches. However, he is a totally fine offensive tackle and allowed only two quarterback pressures in the previous two games, an excellent number.
He will face a tough test when rookie Kayvon Thibodeaux comes to town in the wild-card round. Udoh will also face some competition. The Vikings designated offensive tackle Blake Brandel to return to practice on Wednesday. He is entering a 21-day window in which he is allowed to practice. The Vikings can activate him to the 53-man roster anytime in that window.
Brandel started at left tackle when Christian Darrisaw missed time because of a concussion. The third-year player started three games and appeared in nine. He played 275 snaps on offense. Interestingly, Brandel replaced Darrisaw, so the team viewed Brandel as the better player. Last season, Udoh started at right guard while Brandel was used as a sixth offensive lineman on some plays. Head coach O’Connell trusts Udoh.
Oli is another guy that you can really take a look as his snaps from yesterday. He took another big step forward and a guy that talented, that big, that strong, can start gaining confidence, knowing he’s going to be in there for us. We feel really strongly about his growth here in the short term and the work that he’s done leading up to this opportunity.
The Vikings may want to get Brandel back to start him over Udoh. However, Udoh’s solid play in the last two games might have won him the starting job. If Brandel is ready to return, it will be a fascinating storyline leading up to the game if Udoh or Brandel is starting.
Center Bradbury could also return soon, but Vikings head coach O’Connell didn’t sound very confident.
The hope is that we can get him practicing this week. The hope is that we can have him out there, more than likely limited, on Wednesday and then we’ll see if we can build his work in throughout the week and see how he feels. Ultimately, I just want Garrett to give it a go and see if he can turn the corner and possibly help us, but at the same time, I don’t want to put him in a position where he may not be the best or feel like he’s held back at all.
No matter the offensive line’s health, the Vikings will get battle-tested in the Wildcard Round. The Giants employ an elite defensive tackle. Former first-round pick Dexter Lawrence is one of the best linemen in the game. Second-year edge rusher Azeez Ojulari recorded 5.5 sacks in just seven games and is ready to return after spending some time on IR.
Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt