Thursday, September 28, 2017

Don’t overlook Riley Reiff’s role in Vikings’ offensive turnaround

By Matthew Coller
September 27, 2017

After spending big in free agency and spending their top two draft picks on offense, the Minnesota Vikings expected to see improvement in both the running and passing game. But ranking second in the NFL behind only the New England Patriots through three weeks surpasses all expectations – especially with two games started by backup quarterback Case Keenum.

All of the sudden, the NFL is noticing that Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen are one of the league’s best receiving duos. They rank No. 2 and 3 in the league in yards. Rookie of the Year buzz has already started for Dalvin Cook, who’s led the Vikings to the third best running game in the NFL thus far.

Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer has pointed out the overall success of his offensive line, but left tackle Riley Reiff hasn’t gotten much attention as one of the league’s best offseason signings.

In three games, Reiff has allowed zero sacks, zero hits and only six QB Hurries, according to Pro Football Focus data.

He’s also helped allow the Vikings to complete deep throws. They have averaged 8.6 yards per pass attempt (5th in the NFL) and haven’t turned the ball over.

The Vikings have looked to their new tackle, who signed a five-year, $58.75 million contract in May, for leadership. He was named a captain prior to the start of the season.

On Sunday, Reiff will be facing his former team for the first time. On a conference call with Twin Cities media Wednesday, Detroit head coach Jim Caldwell raved about the former first-round pick of the Lions.

“Let me put it this way in terms of Riley: Maybe one of the best men that I’ve ever been around,” Caldwell said. “Tremendous person, loved working with him through the years. I’m not certain you’ll find a tougher guy mentally and physically. One of my all-time favorites.”

When the Vikings signed Reiff, there were questions about how he would fit back into playing left tackle. The Lions used a first-round pick on left tackle Taylor Decker in 2016 and moved Reiff to the right side. But performed well on the right side despite battling injuries.

When he hit free agency, the Vikings gave him left tackle money and a role back at his original starting position.

“I know just watching him against our guys and how he performed against us, we really hone in on how they play against our division,” GM Rick Spielman said after signing Reiff. “We sat with our coaches and scouts, we did a lot of group studies watching the tape … we’re very excited to get him.”

Reiff wasn’t the top tackle on the market – that was long-time Bengal Andrew Whitworth – but what the Vikings knew they could expect was consistently solid play. His Pro Football Focus grades since entering the league were between average and above average across the board.

The move has turned out to be a boon in a league filled with teams struggling to fix their left tackles. Carolina is hardly thrilled with Matt Kalil, who has allowed four sacks, a QB hit and six pressures, and the Seattle Seahawks and New York Giants haven’t made much progress up front either.

Vikings teammates and coaches have been drawn to Reiff for the same reasons as Caldwell enjoying having him around.

“Riley’s played really well,” Zimmer said in a teleconference with Detroit reporters. “I think part of the reason why we were attracted to him is his attitude, demeanor, toughness. He’s a Midwest guy that I think we just thought would fit in well here.”

During training camp, Reiff suffered a back injury and was forced to sit out several weeks. Young tackle Rashod Hill stepped in and took Reiff’s practice reps with the first team.

Hill calls Reiff a “laid back guy,” but that’s selling it short. Reiff is so soft spoken in public that on a conference call to announce his life-changing deal, Reiff talked about his mom liking the Vikings and being excited about hunting and fishing.

But Hill, who was on the Jaguars’ practice squad at this time last year, said that Reiff has helped set a new standard for the offensive line.

“Personally, if I ever need help with anything, I can always depend on Riley,” Hill said. “He talks when he wants to, when he can, but most of all Riley’s a leader. He’s in the facility before anybody. I try to get here early and Riley beats me here.”

The Vikings may see Hill as part of the long-term plan after playing well in Week 17 last year and in training camp this season. He sees Reiff’s disposition carrying over to the field.

“How patient he is with a lot of stuff, he doesn’t seem overwhelmed,” Hill said. “When there’s something that’s not working, he knows how to switch it up and that comes from being a vet…it’s my second year in the league, so I’m still learning. Seeing them, they know how to handle adversity so if something’s not going their way, they change it up.”

Some adversity may be on the way as the Vikings begin facing tougher defenses – and that starts with Detroit. The Lions have improved their pass rush and have eight sacks through three weeks.

Popular Posts