Riley Reiff was born to be a football player. Or at least named to be one.
When you think of the great players in football history, you think of mellifluous, evocative names. Joe Montana. Did anyone ever call him just “Joe” or just “Montana?” No. It was always Joemontana, a name eliciting images of Wild West sheriffs and distant mountain ranges.
Joe Namath. Peyton Manning. Bronko Nagurski, Dick Butkus. There is a rhythm, poetic or brutal, to so many of the names in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and Riley Reiff’s name would fit.
Not his body of work, even when his body is working.
Reiff has missed much of the beginning of training camp with a back injury. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer says it’s not serious, but it already is.
The 2016 Vikings should have won 10 or 11 games even without Teddy Bridgewater and Adrian Peterson. An offensive line that collapsed like a Teflon dome in a snowstorm reduced the victory total to eight.
Reiff became the Vikings’ most important free agent signing. He immediately became the starting left tackle, a position that turned into a wind tunnel last year.
Reiff is a former first-round draft pick. When you take a left tackle in the first round, you hope he’ll hold the position for a decade or more. He lasted five years in Detroit. Then the Lions let him leave.
For all of the hopes attached to him, he’s a lot like the player he’s replacing. Matt Kalil was a first-round pick in 2012 who lasted five years before leaving in free agency. For all of the angst caused by Kalil’s regression, the Viking at this point would settle for a Kalil-like performance at left tackle. Anything but a windsock would be an improvement.
So the Vikings’ last stay in Mankato is not going as Zimmer would have hoped.
Reiff is hurt. Even if he returns soon, he will have missed valuable time learning the offense.
Free-agent running back Latavius Murray hasn’t practiced. Wide receiver Laquon Treadwell is recovering from an injury he says wasn’t caused by a scuffle with Antone Exum. Given the NFL’s history of injury disclosure what we can take from that is that he was definitely injured in a scuffle with Exum.
Reiff, Murray and Treadwell were supposed to be three reasons for optimism. Like the offensive line last year, they have become problems.
With receiver Michael Floyd suspended for the first four games, Treadwell should be using training camp to win the third receiving job. Instead, Treadwell has done little even when healthy.
This can be said for Murray: He has become the least of the Vikings’ injury concerns. He was signed to replace Peterson. Before taking one snap in training camp, he has been replaced by Dalvin Cook, who was drafted after Murray signed.
The difference between Reiff, Treadwell and Murray is that there is no palatable replacement for Reiff, there won’t be a palatable replacement for Treadwell until Week 5, and there is already an ideal replacement for Murray.
Cook should start the season as the Vikings’ every-down back. The job is his to fumble.
If he can hold on to the ball with more adhesion than at Florida State, he should contribute immediately and heavily.
In recent years, the Vikings have been described as promising, but the addition of Sam Bradford, the passage of time and the struggles of draft picks like Treadwell have turned this into a veteran team.
There are now two young players at highly visible positions capable of making this team dramatically better.
One is Cook. The other is defensive end Danielle Hunter.
They could quickly become stars.
If they can stay healthy.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MNSPN.com. Twitter: @SouhanStrib. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org