Vikings rookie Ezra Cleveland was drafted in the second round to make an impact in his first year.
An uber-athletic offensive tackle by trade, many pundits called for Cleveland’s baptism by fire — replacing veteran Riley Reiff at left tackle and either releasing Reiff (who commands a $13.2 million cap hit this season) or moving Reiff to one of two vacant guard spots.
Vikings offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak may have other things in mind. In a press conference on Wednesday, Kubiak, like many coaches, keeps his cards close to his chest but was frank with his plans for the rookie. Cleveland has been working with the guards in walk-throughs to start training camp as he plans to keep Reiff at left tackle.
Pioneer Press beat reporter Chris Tommason reported that “having no preseason games would not dissuade” Kubiak about the possibility that Cleveland could be the starting right guard.
“We think (Cleveland) has flexibility. We’re working him at guard right now,” Kubiak said. “He’s a very bright player and we felt like we should start somewhere where he hasn’t had many reps — we know he has the comfort zone of going back outside. We’ll settle him down after about a week and take a look where we think he should be and what gives him the best chance to help our team.”
While Cleveland works out with the second-team offensive line, Dakota Dozier and Pat Elflein are the first-team guards.
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Reiff’s Future With Vikings
Reiff still being rostered amid an offseason filled with veteran departures to create cap space is a signal in the Vikings confidence in the ninth-year lineman.
“We can do things offensively to help out our players and help Riley more,” Kubiak said. “I’m a big fan Riley Reiff fan. I love him as a person a player and a leader on our team and nobody comes here more ready to work for Riley. We’re expecting Riley to have a great year.”
During Reiff’s three years as a Viking, Pro Football Focus has ranked him 38th (of 57), 23rd (of 62) and 26th (of 60). He has been the epitome of an average tackle in the league while he enters the 2020 season as the 14th highest-paid player at his position, per Sportrac.
Reiff gives the Vikings at the very least stability at one of the most important positions in the game. While Cleveland could eventually make his way to replacing Reiff, it seems Reiff will begin the season protecting Kirk Cousins’ blindside.
Continuity On the Offensive Line
Cleveland starting at right guard would allow the starting offensive linemen to maintain their chemistry at their positions while Cleveland gets acclimated.
The Vikings return four of five starters on the offensive line in Reiff, third-year guard Elflein, and center Garrett Bradbury and right tackle Brian O’Neill, who both enter their second season as pros.
“We have four of those guys back and it shows,” Kubiak said. “Those guys have been playing together, working together… but the competitiveness within the group is going to make us better. We gotta let them go compete.”
Tight end Kyle Rudolph mentioned in the press conference this is the first season he’s had the same tight end coach his 10 seasons with the team.
Trevor Squire is a Heavy contributor covering the Minnesota Vikings and journalism graduate from the University of Minnesota — Twin Cities. Connect with him on Twitter @trevordsquire and join our Vikings community at Heavy on Vikings on Facebook.