Sid Hartman
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Over the past three seasons the Vikings offensive line has been the biggest question mark for a team that is considered one of the deepest and most talented in the NFL.

From 2016 to 2018 the Vikings have started 19 different offensive linemen. They had eight different offensive linemen start games in 2018 and 2017 and nine different linemen start in 2016.

Just as important is that the only Vikings offensive linemen to start 16 regular-season games in that stretch are Mike Remmers at right guard in 2018 and Joe Berger at right guard in 2017.

The Vikings looked to have a chance at some continuity on the offensive line coming into this season with Remmers, Tom Compton, Pat Elflein, Riley Reiff and Brian O’Neill all starting more than 10 games in 2018 — but Remmers was released and Compton signed with the Jets.

On top of that they lost Nick Easton, who figured to be a starter after dealing with injuries all of last season, to New Orleans.

That’s why so many pundits believe the Vikings will draft an offensive lineman with their first-round pick in the draft on Thursday.

Mel Kiper of ESPN wrote that he believes the Vikings will take Alabama offensive lineman Jonah Williams, if he is available at No. 18 overall when the Vikings pick.

“I just love the fit for both the Vikings and Williams here,” Kiper wrote in his mock draft. “Minnesota’s offensive line was poor last season, and it has been tough for GM Rick Spielman to make significant upgrades with very little cap space. Williams could start at either guard or tackle for the Vikings. It’s a no-brainer.”

Rarely draft linemen

If the Vikings do make an offensive lineman their first selection it will be a break from tradition.

In the past 24 years the Vikings have used only two of their 27 first-round picks on offensive linemen — Matt Kalil in 2012 with the No. 4 overall pick and Bryant McKinnie in 2002 with the No. 7 overall pick.

The Vikings clearly recognized that their offensive line was a big issue this offseason as they overhauled their offensive staff.

They brought in a whole team of coaches who had worked with new assistant head coach Gary Kubiak, including new offensive line coach Rick Dennison.

Pro Football Focus ranked the Vikings offensive line 29th in the NFL last season and noted that Kirk Cousins was the second-most-pressured quarterback in the league, which isn’t a good start for a quarterback who signed the richest contract in team history.

Dennison said he knows what kind of situation he is getting into and also pointed out that the Vikings were put in a tough spot last year with the shocking death of offensive line coach Tony Sparano right before the season.

“I certainly have had a deep respect for Coach Sparano, his guys always played really hard,” Dennison said. “I don’t really look at technique and specifics, but the guys always played really hard for him. That’s kind of what we’re expecting”

Does he worry that the team needs to add more depth on the line after signing guard Josh Kline to a three-year, $15.5 million contract and center Brett Jones to a one-year, $810,000 deal?

“We’ll get five somehow, some way, whether it’s the guys here or mix-and-match,” Dennison said. “We’re still trying to develop all of that and fill out the room and find the best five guys.”

Can U get football fans back?

Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle said he firmly believes this year will see an increase in Gophers football attendance after some disappointing seasons at the ticket window, including an average of 37,914 fans per game in 2018, their lowest mark since 1992.

The most recent attendance data from the NCAA, from 2017, ranked the Gophers eighth in the Big Ten Conference with 310,506 fans at seven home games, an average of 44,358.

But that season, the distance between the Gophers and the seventh-ranked school, Iowa, was an additional 153,851 total fans for the Hawkeyes home games. That gap was larger than the gap between the Gophers and Northwestern, which had the lowest conference attendance with 250,969 fans.

How does Coyle feel about season ticket renewals this year?

“Our season ticket renewals are out and people have been renewing,” Coyle said. “We feel very confident that we’ll have an increase in ticket sales this year, based on a couple factors.

“Obviously again winning three of those final four games and the excitement that coach [P.J.] Fleck and his staff have brought with their recruiting classes the past couple of years, that has been a big jolt to our program. Also our home schedule next year, we feel like we’ve got a really good home schedule. We have Nebraska, Wisconsin, Penn State — three home games right there that will generate a lot of interest. We’re trying to be creative and earn people back to TCF Bank Stadium.”

JOTTINGS

• The Twins were sold for $44 million in 1984; Forbes Magazine put their value at $1.2 billion this month. The Twins were ranked No. 23 overall in value, and have the third-highest value in the American League Central behind the White Sox ($1.6 billion) and Detroit ($1.25 billion).

• Pro Football Focus ranks former Gopher Blake Cashman as the No. 4 off-the-ball linebacker in the draft on Thursday. “Cashman earned a 90.0-plus overall grade this pasts season and tested out as one of the most athletic linebackers in the class at the combine,” they wrote.

• PFF has Cashman going in the second round at No. 59 overall and former Gophers safety Jacob Huff going in the sixth round at No. 197 overall. PFF said that Huff ranked fifth in overall grade and coverage grade among FBS safeties entering the draft.

• Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman on how busy this time of year is for the team’s front office and coaching staff as they prepare for the draft: “It has been a grind, but it’s the most exciting time of the year. This is the time of the year you get the best chance to improve your football team.”

• Vikings Hall of Famer Alan Page’s Page Education Foundation was awarded $50,000 from the NFL Foundation’s Legends Impact Grant.

• Local groups trying to attract large sporting events to the Twin Cities are reported to be making an effort to get a 2025 Bowl Championship Series National Championship Game at U.S. Bank Stadium.

• Rest assured that tournament director Hollis Cavner spent a lot of his time at the Masters last weekend trying to attract top golfers for the inaugural 3M Open at the TPC Twin Cities in Blaine. That event will be held July 4-7. One of the local golfers who plays sparingly on the tour, Tim Herron, will definitely play in the tournament.

Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. Monday and Friday, 2 p.m. Friday and 10:30 a.m. Sunday. • shartman@startribune.com