Mon, 26 Oct 2020

Kubiak: Vikings Young Linemen Working Toward Opportunity

Minnesota Vikings
17 Oct 2020, 20:37 GMT+10

Eric Smith

EAGAN, Minn. - Vikings guard Dru Samia appeared on Minnesota's injury report Thursday with a wrist injury.

If the second-year right guard is unable to play Sunday against Atlanta, then Minnesota would have its third player line up at right guard in the first six games of 2020.

Samia has started the past four games in place of Pat Elflein, who opened at the spot in Week 1 but was then placed on Injured Reserve. Elflein has surpassed the required three-week minimum before returning, but there is not an update on his status.

Vikings Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak on Thursday described the development of Minnesota's young offensive linemen and the importance of sticking behind them through growing pains.

"Yeah, we've got to continue to grow Dru and have got to work through some of the mistakes and those types of things," Kubiak said. "We're also hanging onto the positive things he's doing and understanding we have a good, young player on our hands.

"You've got to go through some growing pains along the way. I believe in our room, and we'll just keep working," Kubiak added. "I think before it's said and done, I think you're going to see us play seven or eight deep here along the way. We'll see how it goes."

Samia, a fourth-round pick in 2019, has endured some ups when run blocking and downs when pass blocking in his four starts. He was flagged four times Sunday, resulting in three accepted penalties (two on pass plays and one on a run).

"I think we all understand, Dru's, what, four games into his career, basically, right here," Kubiak said. "He's played against some really good players inside; we've played some really good players. We're going to play another great one this week [in Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett].

"There's been a lot of good from Dru. Obviously there's some things he's got to get better at, and there's going to be some growing pains there, but I like the way he works," Kubiak continued. "I like his temperament as a player. Even though there's been some mistakes and some tough times here or there, I think if you look at the production - especially over the past three weeks - Dru's been a part of that production.

"We'll keep battling," Kubiak added. "That's part of raising young players ... part of sticking behind players, sticking behind people, trying to give them every opportunity to help you as a football team, and they grow along the way. We'll keep pushing Dru, and he's working his tail off."

As the Vikings wait for Elflein's potential return, Kubiak said Thursday that other linemen could soon get a chance to see the field.

Kubiak said 2020 second-rounder Ezra Cleveland is working at both guard and tackle. Kubiak added the former Boise State standout tackle has developed well under Vikings offensive line coach Rick Dennison and assistant offensive line coach Phil Rauscher.

"Ezra's coming along. He's getting better every day out on the practice field," Kubiak said. "I think Ezra's putting himself in position that he deserves opportunities as well, the way he's practicing.

"I think before this thing's said and done, you're going to see him get an opportunity to produce and be a part of our team. I'm really proud of how far he's come," Kubiak added. "I just walked off the field ... and he had a really good practice. ... I'm really pleased at how Rico and Phil are bringing him along."

Cleveland was one of the draft's most athletic lineman in 2020. The 6-foot-6, 311-pounder earned First-Team All-Mountain West honors in his final two collegiate seasons.

"It's probably just about an opportunity, to be honest with you," Kubiak said when asked about Cleveland's next step. "A lot of times guys are out there working and practicing well, and you see them growing as players, and then you never know which given Sunday, all of a sudden, it's going to be his turn.

"Whether it's somebody getting nicked up or us giving him the opportunity to go in there and play," Kubiak added. "I think his time is coming. I think you're going to see him get an opportunity here at some point, and he's really working hard to prepare for that opportunity."

Kubiak also noted that Olisaemeka Udoh, a 2019 sixth-round pick, is also working at both guard and tackle. He has primarily spent time at right tackle since being drafted.

"We've got guys working everywhere. Ezra does work at both spots. Oli's working at both spots," Kubiak said. "We're trying to move some guys around and get them as many reps throughout the course of the year, everywhere, for us.

"Just kind of see how they jump at us and how they progress," Kubiak added. "So, we'll see what happens. But he continues to get reps at both."

Tackles Riley Reiff and Brian O'Neill have played all 324 offensive snaps this season, as have left guard Dakota Dozier and center Garrett Bradbury.

Elflein played 52 snaps in Week 1, while Samia has been on the field for 272 total snaps over the past month.

Cleveland, Udoh and backup interior lineman Brett Jones have not played an offensive snap in 2020.

The Vikings went through a normal practice schedule Thursday despite the Falcons closing their facility due to multiple positive COVID-19 tests in the organization. Atlanta worked virtually in preparation for Sunday's game at U.S. Bank Stadium, which remains scheduled for noon (CT) Sunday.

"I think we all understand that our routines and schedules could be interrupted throughout the course of this year," Kubiak said. "It's just part of life, so you kind of deal with it.

"The other thing is we all know each other in this league, so we all have friends, coaches on other teams, and when you hear something, the first thing you think about is, 'Everybody OK?,' " Kubiak added. "So it's just kind of part of the day nowadays, and you just pray that everybody stays healthy and we can keep plugging along right here."

The Vikings were in a similar position of having a practice cancelled in Week 4 before playing the Texans because of positive tests in the Titans organization that grew after Tennessee visited Minnesota in Week 3. The Vikings did not have a positive test after facing the Titans.

Added Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Marwan Maalouf: "Our safety and their safety really comes first. So, they have to take the proper precautions, which is what they're doing. I think that's the most important is the safety and the well-being of their players, their staff and of course our players and our staff. We understand what they're going through, and hopefully we'll get a chance to play them if everything goes well on their end."

Vikings Connected

Vikings Connected is a light hearted look at the Vikings players and organization through social media as well as an opportunity to showcase the personalities on the team. Returning for their 7th season are co-hosts Erin Newburg, and Chris Hawkey from the Vikings Radio Flagship KFAN.

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