When the massive Christian Darrisaw fell to the Vikings in April’s NFL draft, general manager Rick Spielman wasted no time using the No. 23 overall pick to pick up a guy he thought had legitimate star power.
Forget the 6-foot-5, 315-pound lineman being the left tackle of the future. Many within the organization thought he could be the left tackle of the present.
Which is why the past few months have been so frustrating for the Vikings.
After multiple surgeries to repair a core muscle injury, the 22-year-old Darrisaw has only practiced a handful of times since being drafted. He enters Sunday’s season opener against the Bengals in Cincinnati as the backup left tackle on the official depth chart, though there’s no way the Vikings would feel comfortable playing him in an actual game.
Asked about how long it will take Darrisaw to get up to speed, coach Mike Zimmer replied, “That’s a good question as far as where he’s at. It’s an unknown.” He mentioned that Darrisaw is expected to participate in individual drills at Wednesday’s practice.
“I think the biggest thing is watching him practice and then we start seeing him develop,” Zimmer said. “It’s just going to be an evaluation each week, and then when we decide to put him in there, then we do.”
In the meantime, veteran Rashod Hill will hold down the fort at left tackle. He has spent most of his career with Vikings as a backup after going undrafted out of Southern Mississippi and he isn’t taking this opportunity for granted.
“You know, Rashod has always been a pretty good pass blocker,” Zimmer said. “I think where he’s improved is in the run game. You know, trying to get guys cut off on the back side, and stop guys from reaching on the front side.”
As much as Hill is relishing his role as the starter, he also is more than willing to help Darrisaw. Even if Hill knows he might have to cede his starting spot to Darrisaw at some point.
“Man, anything Christian needs me to do to help him, I’m always there,” Hill said. “If he needs any help, he’ll ask me. If he has a problem, he’ll ask me. As of right now, though, I’m focused on the game.”
Maybe the most promising thing about Darrisaw is that he has stayed engaged despite his injury. No matter who’s being asked about him — whether it’s offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak, offensive line coach Phil Rauscher or right tackle Brian O’Neill — everyone has had rave reviews about the rookie.
“My locker is right next to him,” O’Neill said during training camp. “We spend a ton of time together, so I’m always in his ear. So is Rashod. He’s asking the right questions. He’s involved. He’s doing just fine.”
Asked what he needs to see of Darrisaw in the coming weeks to prove he’s ready to supplant Hill as the starter, Zimmer replied, “Well, I need to see him practice first.”
“I mean, I don’t know. He’s not in terrific football shape because he hasn’t practiced, so we’ve got to see that too,” Zimmer added. “You’ve got to see if he’s making mistakes and if he’s doing the things correctly. So much of the offensive line is so much about footwork and working together and getting off the ball at the same time and combination blocks. There’s a lot of things we have not seen him do.”
After spending the past couple of seasons on the Vikings’ practice squad, quarterback Jake Browning signed with the Bengals’ practice squad on Tuesday. Perhaps that’s a bit of gamesmanship with the teams facing off in Sunday’s season opener.