Vikings confident at OT with Loadholt, Kalil

Today is the fifth day of two weeks of Minnesota Vikings coverage leading up to the April 25 beginning of the NFL Draft.

April 12: Five best draft moments in the past 25 years
April 13: Five worst draft moments in the past 25 years
April 14: Quarterbacks position preview
April 15: Running backs/fullbacks position preview
Today: Offensive tackles position preview
April 17: Guards/centers position preview
April 18: Tight ends position preview
April 19: Wide receivers position preview
April 20: Defensive linemen position preview
April 21: Linebackers position preview
April 22: Cornerbacks position preview
April 23: Safeties position preview
April 24: Rick Spielman’s draft strategy
April 25: Forecasting the first-round picks

TODAY’S POSITION: OFFENSIVE TACKLES

Importance (1-to-10 scale): 3

On the roster

Minnesota appears set at the position for years with the re-signing of right tackle Phil Loadholt. Loadholt and left tackle Matt Kalil give the Vikings one of the best sets of bookend tackles in the entire league. Kalil, drafted No. 4 overall last year, was a Pro Bowl replacement in his first season and could develop into a perennial selection and become one of the top left tackles in the entire league. Kalil had a strong rookie season but still has room for improvement. He has all the tools, and experience will only help his development. Loadholt is a massive force on the right side and is a dominant run blocker. Coaches challenged Loadholt to become more consistent last season and he responded with perhaps his best season in the NFL. He still has to maintain his consistency and cut out penalties, but his new four-year, $25 million contract locks down Minnesota’s right side.

DeMarcus Love has yet to play in an NFL game since being drafted in 2011, but the Vikings are high on him. He missed all of last season after having pectoral surgery. He’s likely slated to be the team’s top backup at tackle this season. Kevin Murphy is also on the team after spending last year on the practice squad.

Last five offensive tackles drafted

2012: Matt Kalil, USC: first round (fourth overall) — still with the Vikings
2011: DeMarcus Love, Arkansas: sixth round (168th overall) — still with the Vikings
2010: Chris DeGeare, Wake Forest: fifth round (161st overall) — released Aug. 31, 2012, signed with New York Giants on Jan. 8, 2013
2009: Phil Loadholt, Oklahoma: second round (54th overall) — still with the Vikings
2004: Nat Dorsey, Georgia Tech: fourth round (115th overall) — traded to Cleveland Browns, September 2005, out of the league.

Philosophy at the position

The Vikings have invested two high picks — and now big money — in the tackle spots with Kalil and Loadholt. They have their strong pass protector on the left side in Kalil to protect the blind side of right-handed quarterbacks Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel. Loadholt is the right-side anchor who devastates defenders at the point of attack and leads the running game. Minnesota appears set at the position for years. If the Vikings were to add in the draft, it could be a late-round player who has the ability to swing between tackle and guard, such as former lineman Geoff Schwartz last year. Schwartz signed a free-agent deal with the Kansas City Chiefs, and Love is probably the top backup at tackle, if he can stay healthy. Love could be a strong backup but really is an unknown. Minnesota needs health from Kalil and Loadholt, and the two starters have proven durable over their careers. Loadholt has missed only one game in his four-year career, and Kalil has started every game the past three seasons with the Vikings and USC.

Day 1 name to remember (Round 1)

Eric Fisher, senior, Central Michigan (6-7, 306). Since the start of the draft evaluation process, Luke Joeckel from Texas A&M has been considered the top tackle and the most likely No. 1 overall pick. But Fisher has been gaining on Joeckel since a strong Senior Bowl performance, and some believe he is the best tackle in the draft and has a chance to be drafted No. 1. Fisher is tall, has long arms and has good footwork and mobility. He still probably has room to grow and get stronger, which is likely in the NFL. He can handle speed rushers because of his size and athleticism. Fisher is considered very confident and competitive, such as when he went to the Senior Bowl and proved that he was a top pick despite coming from a smaller school. He will have to add strength, which would help him handle power rushers and be better in the run game, though he’s considered a strong run blocker as well.

Fisher says: “I think I have a lot of room to improve. I definitely don’t think I’ve played my best football. I still have a lot to grow into my body. It’s really come a long way in the last year, and physically I feel a lot better because obviously I came in, put on over 70 pounds and I took a while to develop into that, but I’m finally starting to feel used to a solid 300, 310 pounds. I think I definitely have room for growth, and just looking forward to playing some more ball here.”

Day 2 name to remember (Rounds 2-3)

Terron Armstead, senior, Arkansas-Pine Bluff (6-5, 306). Another small-school player who could make a big impact in the NFL, Armstead was an All-Southwestern Athletic Conference pick in football and track and field. Not originally asked to participate in the Senior Bowl, Armstead played in the East-West Shrine game and then was invited as an injury replacement to the Senior Bowl and has been gaining buzz as the draft approaches. He’s a good athlete for a tackle, nimble and is light on his feet. As athletic as he is, really needs to become stronger, especially in lower-body strength. He hasn’t faced elite competition. With improved strength and NFL coaching, Armstead could be a project who turns into an elite NFL left tackle.

Day 3 name to remember (Rounds 4-7)

David Bakhtiari, junior, Colorado (6-4, 299). Bakhtiari started each of his three years in Colorado and is considered a left tackle but might be a guard at the next level because of his size. He doesn’t have the typical height and length of a left tackle at the next level. Maybe he becomes the type of player who can start at either spot, but he is more likely to be a backup with the ability to swing between guard and tackle. He has quick hands and feet. Like many of the top tackles this year, Bakhtiari really needs to get bigger and stronger. He can get to the next level and clear out holes. He might be a better run blocker because of his strengths and his limitations as a pass blocker. His NFL.com draft bio says he “possesses a mean attitude to finish off blocks.”

FOXSports.com’s draft expert Taylor Jones says: “I think (the tackle position is) top heavy, which is different than in other drafts. Now, there will be a guy that comes out of nowhere that all of a sudden is a franchise left tackle that nobody thought he would be, but I think you get Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher, and (Oklahoma’s) Lane Johnson in the top 10.

To me, I actually put Eric Fisher as the best player on my board. I think he’s better than Joeckel. I hate to compare him to (2009 No. 2 pick) Jason Smith because I don’t want to doom him like that, but they come from a similar system as far as the spread offense, so you’re not necessarily taking on blocks in the same way that you are in an NFL system, which I just think Eric Fisher looks a little more comfortable doing. I think those three guys are a cut above the rest.”

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