Ezra Cleveland Should Stay at Tackle
Much has been made about Gary Kubiak’s recent comments about Ezra Cleveland, Minnesota’s second round pick, beginning camp as the backup right guard. Some are skeptical about Cleveland’s ability to succeed at guard, while others seem to consider it a legitimate possibility.
Upon first glance, Cleveland at RG has some appeal. Playing between Garrett Bradbury and Brian O’Neill would result in a super athletic trio that could do serious damage in the screen game. Cleveland would also be well-equipped to double team defensive tackles before getting to the second level to take on linebackers. The Vikings also have some depth at tackle – Riley Reiff, Brian O’Neill, Oli Udoh, Rashod Hill, and Cleveland – so it makes some sense to borrow from an area of strength to help bolster a position of weakness.
Nevertheless, the Cleveland to RG experiment seems like a long shot. Last season, powerful defensive tackles regularly overwhelmed Minnesota’s interior linemen. One of the biggest criticisms of Cleveland coming out of college was his lack of power. His greatest strength, in contrast, is his athleticism. Moving him to guard would essentially nullify his strength while magnifying his weakness.
Moreover, the transition from tackle to guard isn’t automatic (think Mike Remmers). Vikings fans may also remember Brandon Fusco, a 2011 6th round pick for Minnesota. Fusco had a great start to his career, but switching him back and forth between LG and RG did little to help him.
Seeing if Cleveland could play LG seems more plausible than RG. Cleveland played LT in college, so the footwork would be easier to grasp at LG. Pat Elflein, the current starter, should be on thin ice.
Zimmer has repeatedly emphasized that his goal is to put the best five offensive linemen on the field. In theory, this is a great approach. The best five should play. It’s important to remember, though, that a large part of the equation must be Cleveland’s long-term development. It wouldn’t be at all surprising to learn in a week or two that the Vikings have ended the Cleveland RG experiment.