MINNEAPOLIS - The Minnesota Vikings are three weeks away from hosting the Green Bay Packers in the regular season opener at U.S. Bank Stadium, and they’re close to finalizing their starting offensive line.
The only spot left to fill is at left guard. We know the other Week 1 starters are Riley Reiff, Garrett Bradbury, Pat Elflein and Brian O’Neill. It’s largely the same offensive line that led to the Vikings having the No. 6 rushing offense in the NFL. The only switch was moving Elflein to the right side.
The race for left guard at the start of Training Camp appeared to be between Aviante Collins, Dakota Dozier, Dru Samia and rookie Ezra Cleveland. If recent camp practices are any indication, the race is likely between Dozier and Collins.
In Monday’s workout, Dozier took many of the first-team reps at left guard, and Collins got some as well. The two split time there on Sunday. The spot appears to be Dozier’s to lose, and he’s embracing his chance to focus on one position in practice.
“Being able to focus on a spot is definitely something that any player wants the opportunity to do, so I’m super excited to have this opportunity,” Dozier told reporters Monday via Zoom before practice.
His previous experience helps. Dozier earned four starts last season, playing every offensive snap in Week 2 against the Packers, Week 4 against the Chicago Bears, Week 6 against the Philadelphia Eagles and Week 11 against the Denver Broncos.
Dozier got snaps in 11 of Minnesota’s 16 regular season games last year, and is entering his second year with the Vikings after seven starts with the New York Jets over three seasons. Gary Kubiak, in charge of forming the offensive line and the zone run scheme for Dalvin Cook, said last week he’s liked what he has seen from Dozier in camp thus far.
“Dakota’s at a very good place in his life and his career,” Kubiak said. “He’s a guy who’s battled and battled and battled, and he knows he can do it, and he’s out there every day really doing a hell of a job.”
Kubiak said last week the hope was to have the starting offensive line solidified over the weekend. But it would require a conversation among the coaches, and the players competing.
Dozier embraces competition. The 6-4, 312-pound tackle treats every practice like a game, and treats every week during the season like he’ll be the starter. That way, he’s ready if his name is called.
“It really lets you know whether or not you prepared for the game. That happened to me a couple times in my career, it’s always made sure for me that I prepared for this game just like a starter would, no matter what happens so you’re prepared for that kind of situation,” Dozier said. “I’m always preparing as if I’m a starter.”
That’s especially important at this year’s Training Camp, with no preseason games to put tape together, no dress rehearsals to show the coaches you’re ready for the real thing. The only thing Dozier can do is compete with his offensive line teammates, and get quality reps by beating the guy across from him.
Dozier declined to say Monday if he’s been told he won the left guard job, or when the decision might be made. He’s keeping his head down and letting the process figure itself out.
“I just go to work every day and do what I’m asked to do,” Dozier said.