After strong rookie season, Vikings left tackle Christian Darrisaw thinking big. Pro Bowl big
After being taken with the No. 23 pick in the 2021 draft out of Virginia Tech, the 6-foot-5, 315-pound Darrisaw showed he has the talent to develop into a Pro Bowl-type player.
EAGAN, Minn. -- Left tackle Christian Darrisaw proudly held up the trophy he got this week for being named the Vikings’ 2021 Rookie of the Year. For 2022, he has a much bigger goal.
“It means a lot,” he said of the rookie award. “A shout out to my teammates, for sure. It’s definitely a blessing, but I’ve got a lot more work to do. I’m trying to get to that Pro Bowl.”
After being taken with the No. 23 pick in the 2021 draft out of Virginia Tech, the 6-foot-5, 315-pound Darrisaw showed he has the talent to develop into a Pro Bowl-type player. After being inactive the first three games of last season because of groin issues and then serving as a reserve for the next two games, he moved into the starting lineup in Week 6. He got better and better as the season progressed, and at the end was ranked by Pro Football Focus a respectable 36th among 83 NFL tackles.
Darrisaw last year had surgery in January and then had another medical procedure in August, a process that sidelined him for spring drills, much of training camp and for the preseason in addition to the first three games. Now, after taking part in spring drills and expecting to have no issues in training camp, he is envisioning how much better he might be in 2022.
“This really is my first complete full offseason,” said Darrisaw, whose Vikings concluded spring drills Wednesday and will report for training camp in late July. “I came out in (spring drills) and just improved on everything, and hopefully it shows out this season. I love practicing and getting better and learning a new playbook. It’s really exciting.”
Head coach Mike Zimmer was fired after last season, and replaced by Kevin O’Connell, who brought in Chris Kuper as the new offensive line coach. Kuper, a guard for Denver from 2006-13 and most recently the Broncos’ assistant offensive line coach for three years, likes what he has seen from Darrisaw.
“I don’t want to put a ceiling on him at all because I think the kid has some special ability,” Kuper said. “Definitely going to be better in year two just because that’s how it works. You play more. You’re on the field more. Those reps are invaluable for a player, to get live reps in games, and you continue to grow and build and get better from those.”
Darrisaw showed poise for a rookie last season, but he said there’s still much he can improve.
“I’m trying to improve in the pass game and the rush game and just watching film from last year and taking away those things that I didn’t do well,” Darrisaw said. “Just like staying square on my pass sets and just like playing one play at a time. I kind of got frustrated sometimes last year when I had a bad play or whatever, so I’m just like throwing all that stuff out and taking one play at a time, attacking it.”
When the Vikings drafted Darrisaw, they were looking at him as a possible long-term piece for them at left tackle. He hopes that happens.
“I know I’ve got a lot of work to do proving every day I can be that guy, and hopefully I can be that guy here in Minnesota for a long time,” he said.
Darrisaw figures he will get even better during practices going against Vikings sack specialists Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith. Hunter was sidelined for the season in Week 7 of 2021 due to a torn pectoral muscle. Smith was signed as a free agent.
The Vikings are moving the two edge rushers around on defense, although Darrisaw said he has gone more against Hunter, an indication Hunter might play more on the right side after playing left defensive end for years. Hunter had 14½ sacks in both 2018 and 2019 before injuries derailed him the past two seasons. Smith had 13½ sacks in 2019 and 12½ in 2020 before playing in just one regular-season game last year because of a back injury.
“It’s tough battles every day in practice, but it’s only going to make us tackles better,” Darrisaw said. “It’s definitely going to get us game ready because Danielle and Za’Darius, I feel like they’re one of the best (duos) in the game. If I’m going against those guys every day, once you get into the game, it’s going to be easier.”
Hunter and Smith each have been named to two Pro Bowls. And Darrisaw is hoping this season to end up in one himself.
“That’s the goal for everybody in the room, every starter,” he said. “You want to be in the Pro Bowl.”
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