The Vikings finally have in place the offensive line they envisioned using this season. And the early reviews have been good.
When rookie left tackle Christian Darrisaw got his first NFL start Oct. 17 at Carolina, the Vikings didn’t allow quarterback Kirk Cousins to be sacked in a 34-28 overtime win. How rare was that?
It ended a streak of 22 straight starts in which Cousins had been sacked at least once with the Vikings. The previous last game in which he was not sacked was on Dec. 15, 2019 at the Los Angeles Chargers.
Darrisaw, the No. 23 overall pick in the 2021 draft, missed the first three games of the season with a groin injury. He saw action only on special teams in Week 4 and rotated with former starter Rashod Hill at left tackle in Week 5 before playing every snap against the Panthers.
Now, the Vikings have in place an offensive line they have been building slowly; it is a line composed of players they drafted. In addition to Darrisaw, it includes right tackle Brian O’Neill (a second-round pick in 2018), center Garrett Bradbury (first round, 2019), right guard Oli Udoh (sixth round, 2019) and left guard Ezra Cleveland (second round, 2020).
“It’s been a good start,” O’Neill said Monday of the retooled line. “I think we have a lot of room to grow, just like any other position. … But good start.”
The Vikings entered the 2021 draft with a big need at left tackle after Riley Reiff was released in a salary-related move. And O’Neill sure liked how Darrisaw looked in his first start.
“Lot of respect for what he was able to do last week,” said O’Neill, whose Vikings (3-3) are coming off a bye week and next play Sunday night against Dallas (5-1) at U.S. Bank Stadium. “I don’t want to speak for Kirk, but he said to me after the game when I was on the field the whole time, I didn’t know he was in there. I mean, he knew he was playing but he didn’t notice (Darrisaw), which, as an O-lineman, is a really good thing.
“(Cousins) said he was just out there operating, doing his job. … (Darrisaw) was really even-keeled, steady Eddie. He’s very focused, quiet, but does a great job.”
It remains to be seen who will return kickoffs for the Vikings against the Cowboys on Sunday.
Rookie receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette began the season as the returner before sitting out the past three games primarily due to a toe injury. Running back Ameer Abdullah took over the role before he was released last week and signed by Carolina.
Smith-Marsette is now healthy. But another candidate for the job is rookie running back Kene Nwangwu, who suffered a knee injury in the preseason before being activated last week off injured reserve.
“We thought he would (have the) possibility of being the kickoff returner, so we tried to get him some looks there,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said of before Nwangwu was hurt. “He’s got great speed, and we’ll try to utilize some of that on the special teams and go from there.”
Before an Oct. 3 game against Seattle at U.S. Bank Stadium, Vikings cornerback Cameron Dantzler wore a replica Dalvin Cook high school jersey during warm-ups. Later, Cook said he had no idea where Dantzler got it.
Danztler explained Monday how during the offseason he located a replica of the No. 4 jersey Cook once wore at Miami Central High School.
“I was in Las Vegas training, and me and Dalvin, we’re very good friends,” Dantzler said. “He’s like my brother. So I’d seen his high school jersey in this (store), so then I said I had to get that and wear it one game. And the Seahawks game he was out (due to an ankle injury), I just wanted to dedicate that to him.”
Asked if Saturday’s trade of defensive end Stephen Weatherly to Denver could lead to playing time for rookie Patrick Jones II, Zimmer said, “It’s possible.” Jones has been inactive for all six games. … After Weatherly was traded, cornerback Harrison Hand was restored to the 53-man roster off the COVID-19 reserve list, so Minnesota is back up to the maximum of 53 players. … The Vikings still have an opening on the 16-man practice squad after tackle Blake Brandel was promoted to the active roster last week.