Left tackle Riley Reiff is a man of few words, but he needed only a handful Monday to describe the value of a preseason, or this year’s lack thereof, to the Vikings offensive line. This year’s Week 1 lineup will be the fourth different opening-day combination in Reiff’s fourth season as the Vikings’ left tackle.
Long-awaited practices begin this week, and playing in pads next Monday, and Reiff said the clock is ticking on the offensive line.
“We’re one of the groups on a football field that really needs to get those live reps,” Reiff said during a videoconference with reporters.
Evaluations have been limited so far to the classroom and walk-throughs, creating a short runway for the Vikings offense to debut a new right guard and any improvements from young players.
Veterans Dakota Dozier and Aviante Collins are among the candidates to replace Josh Kline at right guard, according to coordinator Gary Kubiak, with just 14 padded practices before the regular season begins.
“Every minute is crucial,” Reiff said.
Vikings coaches are counting on starters, including left guard Pat Elflein and center Garrett Bradbury, to improve while seeking development from many young reserves. Another COVID-related change, according to Reiff, has been splitting the squad onto separate practice fields, keeping apart starters and reserves at times.
“[Young players] didn’t get live reps, but they really had to nail down that first aspect of knowing the playbook,” Reiff said. “We haven’t interacted much. I’ve been in the room with them, but with split fields and stuff. I haven’t been able to see them that much.”
‘Arrow’s up for him’
The Vikings placed linebacker Cameron Smith on waivers Monday, but he’ll remain with the team on the non-football injury list should he go unclaimed as expected.
Smith, a 2019 fifth-round pick, announced Saturday he needs heart surgery to fix a bicuspid aortic valve discovered after he tested positive for COVID-19 and underwent cardiac screening.
Although the non-football injury list allows teams to limit a player’s salary, the Vikings are not expected to take money from Smith., according to a league source. He’s in a “good place” mentally, said special teams coach Marwan Maalouf.
“I told him if he’s around the building, ‘Be another coach.’ Because he’s a really good student of the game, a very sharp guy,” Maalouf said. “I think the arrow’s up for him from a mental perspective and everything, and now he has to take care of himself.”
‘A mature rookie’
Maalouf noted the Vikings’ many “options” at punt returner, but he kept coming back to fifth-round receiver K.J. Osborn, whom he praised as a “mature” rookie doing well on punt returns during on-field work.
The Vikings also have receiver Justin Jefferson, cornerback Mike Hughes and receiver Chad Beebe handling punt returns.
“It’s just a matter of making sure we have the right person at the right opportunity,” Maalouf said. “Who knows, there could be a chance where we put two guys back there, but so far K.J. has done a good job.”
Punter Britton Colquitt, entering his 12th NFL season, is enjoying the empty locker on either side of him at TCO Performance Center because of COVID-19 protocols, but this isn’t how he envisioned earning the comfort typically reserved for the highest-profile player in a locker room.
“Every year of my life, ‘I want to be that old guy, so they feel sorry for me and get me an extra locker,’ ” Colquitt said. “I’m finally the oldest guy around and everybody gets an extra locker.”