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Vikings offensive line: Get mad or block out criticism

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn.--After Pat Shurmur was named Vikings interim offensive coordinator this week, he told his struggling linemen that they need to block out everything being said about them.

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn.-After Pat Shurmur was named Vikings interim offensive coordinator this week, he told his struggling linemen that they need to block out everything being said about them.

Pro Football Hall of Fame tackle Ron Yary has another idea. He wonders if members of Minnesota's offensive line actually might benefit by taking heed of the criticism that has been heaped upon them.

"The criticism has been relentless," said Yary, who played for the Vikings from 1968-81. "If they spoke about me like that, I'd be angry. I'd be mad at myself; I'd be mad at everybody. They need to take it personally. Go after guys (on defense). Get angry about everything. Be relentless. The only way to shut them up is to go after them. Get mean."

The injury-riddled offensive line has been a target for naysayers all season, but criticism has ramped up over the past two weeks. After a 5-0 start, the Vikings suffered a pair of ugly losses - 21-10 at Philadelphia on Oct. 23 and 20-10 at Chicago on Monday night - with quarterback Sam Bradford sacked 11 times in the two games.

The line has had all sorts of problems opening holes for a running game that is averaging 71.9 yards per game and 2.7 per carry. Against the Bears, Minnesota managed just 57 yards rushing.

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Now Shurmur, who stepped in after Norv Turner resigned, will look to clean up the mess. Minnesota's linemen will be listening to his advice a lot more than Yary's.

"I don't believe in anyone's opinions except our coaches," guard Brandon Fusco said Friday. "If I started listening to a lot of outside noise, it would bother me."

Fusco claims he doesn't pay attention to anything being said or written about Minnesota's beleaguered line. Center Joe Berger tries to have the same approach but doesn't deny that some of it seeps through.

"You hear about it," Berger said. "There's no way not to hear about it. That's what those guys (in the media) get paid to do, and that's fine. Some of it is warranted; some of it is people who don't know what they're talking about."

So what has been warranted?

"Obviously, we've got to protect better; we've got to run the ball better," Berger said. "We know that. If anybody knows that, the five up front know that."

One of the biggest problems is how often the five up front has changed. Starting left tackle Matt Kalil was lost for the season after Week 2 with a hip injury, and starting right tackle Andre Smith was out for the year after hurting his elbow in Week 4.

Now the Vikings will be without starting left guard Alex Boone for Sunday's game against Detroit at U.S. Bank Stadium. Boone has a concussion as well as shoulder and knee injuries.

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Boone also missed the second half of a Week 3 game at Carolina with a hip injury. Fusco sat out the bulk of a Week 5 win over Houston after suffering a concussion on the first series.

Jake Long, a nine-year veteran signed Oct. 11, has stepped in at left tackle, and T.J. Clemmings has moved from left tackle to right. Jeremiah Sirles, who started two games last month at right tackle, will replace Boone on Sunday.

"It's just been a roller coaster this year with the offensive line changes," Fusco said. "But again, it's next man up."

Ed White, who played guard for the Vikings from 1969-77 and made three Pro Bowls, has empathy for the battered line.

"I feel for them," White said. "Guys just keep falling. It's been incredible. It's tough when guys haven't been playing together, because everybody on the line has to be in concert."

Despite the injuries, White believes the line can do better.

"This is about as down as the line has been for a long time," he said. "They've had a couple of bad games, there's no question about it. They've got to take the heat. Right now, they can't fight their way out of a paper sack. People are calling them crappy."

As for Yary's suggestion that the linemen need to get mad about that, Berger said that might work for some. He is planning a more restrained approach.

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"If I play angry, I start having missed assignments," he said. "So it's kind of like a controlled rage, I guess. ... You take with any criticism what's important and you leave the rest aside."

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