Dalton Risner, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings

Getty Dalton Risner looks ahead.

After declining to keep Dalton Risner in his starting spot at Minnesota Vikings minicamp, Kevin O’Connell shifted his tone and declared an open competition at both guard spots — effectively putting more pressure on starting right guard Ed Ingram.

Appearing on a June 10 episode of “The Rich Eisen Show,” O’Connell gave Risner the nod that he’s going to compete for both starting guard spot after previously stating Risner would only compete at left guard.

“I think our offensive line has really been solidified obviously with the two tackles we have, we bring back Dalton Risner, who’s going to compete like crazy at the guard spot with both (Ingram) and Blake Brandel,” O’Connell said.

Risner, who signed with the Vikings late in September last year and won the starting left guard spot by Week 7, re-signed to a team-friendly deal on May 31 after struggling to secure a starting guard salary through three months of free agency.

Despite Risner not allowing a single sack and only 30 pressures last season as Pro Football Focus’ 22nd-ranked pass-blocker, the Vikings showed their cards that they hope to make a change at left guard, signing Brandel, a longtime backup, to a three-year, $9.5 million extension in March.

The Vikings have built up Brandel, a 2021 sixth-round pick, throughout spring workouts, giving him the first-team reps opposite of Ingram.

Risner has worked with the second team through spring workouts and has only played left guard in his five years in the league.

However, O’Connell opening the possibility for Risner to play on the right side will make for a competitive training camp at the position.

Vikings Challenge Ed Ingram With Threat of Dalton Risner

Ed IngramEd Ingram

GettyEd Ingram

While O’Connell suggested Risner could challenge Ingram for his starting spot, Risner moving to the right side likely would have likely already happened last year.

A 2022 third-round pick, Ingram had led the NFL in pressures allowed his rookie year. The Vikings stuck by him last offseason, declining to sign Risner after a visit in August.

Risner’s midseason signing proved to be a harbinger for starting left guard Ezra Cleveland instead. Risner spent a month in Minnesota before claiming the starting spot, which led the Vikings to trade Cleveland to the Jacksonville Jaguars at the trade deadline.

Ingram improved throughout his second season and allowed 42 total pressures. His pass-blocking grade by PFF jumped from 42.6 in 2022 to 60.9 in 2023.

The Vikings are banking on Ingram taking another significant step forward as a pass-blocker while offering more in the running game than Risner.

Vikings Coaches Tout Blake Brandel at Left Tackle, Describe Risner’s Role in 2024

Blake BrandelBlake Brandel

Image courtesy of the Minnesota VikingsVikings offensive lineman Blake Brandel

It’s hard to bet against Risner who has 73 career starts in his career, but the Vikings have four years of development to lean on Brandel more this season.

“I’m really excited about Blake. I feel like he gets bigger every time I see him. He’s just a massive man on the inside, but he’s in great shape and he’s always been very coachable. You talk about technique, fundamentals, footwork, hand placement, all the things that are critical for the O-line, you know one false step for an O-lineman can be a catastrophe,” Phillips said in a May 21 news conference, per Daily Norseman. “It’s been very encouraging so far with him stepping in for that starting spot on the left there. I think it will only grow from there, the more experience and the more reps he gets. He’s been a guy that any time he’s been put in a game, at several positions, has come through for us. We haven’t forgotten that and we believe that he’s earned this opportunity.”

At 6-foot-7, Brandel got his first major action at left tackle, stepping in for Christian Darrisaw for the majority of five games in 2022. He was thrust into the Vikings’ spectacular 33-30 overtime victory over the Buffalo Bills in his first game and fended off a vaunted Bills pass rush that featured Von Miller.

Brandel played three games at right guard last year and showed enough promise that the Vikings are eager to have him hone in on the left guard spot.

“Blake has been a guy, really since he’s gotten here, who’s been asked to be ready to play two or three different spots at one time. So our challenge to Blake was really to embrace that left guard spot through the spring,” O’Connell said. “Really get the teaching and the mastery of your craft at one spot, which he hasn’t been able to do since he’s been a Minnesota Vikings. We’ve seen the gains off that between, not only, Blake, but amongst those five offensive linemen.”

That doesn’t eliminate the possibility that Risner could win the left guard spot as well, however, the premise of bringing him in was the create depth and competition in camp.

“There was a purpose and a plan of bringing (Risner) back, to create very competitive situation at that left guard spot,” O’Connell continued. “We want to play the best five guys we can. Could see a bunch of different combinations of guys in there, especially as we allow that competition to naturally play out in a way where this time we have training camp. It’s not midseason, it’s four or five weeks into the season. (Risner has) got a year in the system under his belt. (He’s) a veteran player, he came in in great shape, ready to roll.”

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