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Vikings offensive line under pressure

MINNEAPOLIS--Because the Vikings' spackled-together offensive line is the undefeated team's central question mark, scrutiny spares no one. Second-year swing tackle Jeremiah Sirles found himself surrounded by microphones and cameras Wednesday as t...

Oct 3, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman Alex Boone (76) against the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Vikings defeated the Giants 24-10. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 3, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman Alex Boone (76) against the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Vikings defeated the Giants 24-10. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS-Because the Vikings' spackled-together offensive line is the undefeated team's central question mark, scrutiny spares no one.

Second-year swing tackle Jeremiah Sirles found himself surrounded by microphones and cameras Wednesday as the first offensive lineman to amble into the locker room and face the grilling.

"I miss the days where I could come in here and just read a bunch of articles about having butts stuck in my face," Sirles joked about the media scrums for other players that typically crowd out his stall.

Investing in veterans Alex Boone at left guard and Andre Smith at right tackle to shore up last year's porous offensive line has done little to maintain continuity within a unit battered by injury and shifting responsibilities.

Smith and left tackle Matt Kalil are out for the season with injuries.

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Sirles has performed ably in Smith's absence. However, emergency left tackle T.J. Clemmings looked so overmatched in pass protection against Houston on Oct. 9 the Vikings scraped the salary cap to sign unclaimed veteran Jake Long, who has not started in two years since having multiple knee surgeries.

Sam Bradford's blind-side protector entering Sunday's game at Philadelphia remained uncertain as coach Mike Zimmer and his staff evaluate Long and Clemmings during practice this week.

Remember Mike Harris? The versatile guard remains on injured reserve with an undisclosed medical condition.

Brandon Fusco is back practicing after suffering a concussion against the Texans, which thrust undrafted Zac Kerin into just his fifth regular-season game.

Boone was banged up with an earlier hip injury. Only center Joe Berger has emerged unscathed this season, and he only beat out veteran John Sullivan late in training camp.

"Not exactly what you'd put together in May," Sirles said. "We're not making excuses for ourselves. We're all here to do a job and do that job well. We're just going to keep going out there and working and doing what's best for this team."

What's best for Bradford and the Vikings' standing as the NFC's top dog is better pass protection. Bradford was sacked twice when Houston defenders turnstiled Clemmings and hit hard in the pocket other times.

To be fair, Clemmings is in an unfamiliar position, having played his college career at Pittsburgh at right tackle. His footwork and technique have been sloppy trying to fend off opposing pass rushers from the left side.

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Running Clemmings out there and hoping he improves is risky with Bradford playing at a high level and Minnesota still trying to jump-start its running game.

Meanwhile, Long only played 11 snaps last season at Atlanta and started just seven games in 2014 for the Rams. The Vikings hope the four-time Pro Bowler can regain at least some of his stature as one of the league's top offensive linemen.

"My body feels great," Long said before practice. "Last year, I was a backup, but I practiced every day and I was hitting every day. I know my body can handle it. Let's see what I can do. Keep knocking off the rust and get going."

Wednesday's workout was in full pads, and Zimmer is anxious to learn how Long responds during the week.

"Expectations can change quickly and go one way or the other," Zimmer said. "I'm trying to go by what I see and go from there."

Offensive line intrigue never is a sexy storyline, but how well the Vikings manage the unit week to week figures to be an underlying factor to their continued success.

"It's always nice to play next to the same guys, but at the same time it's what we do as an offensive line," said Berger, who spent most of his career as a swing guard before becoming a starter. "We've been rolling in guys in and out since camp. You get comfortable playing with whoever's next to you."

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