By Joseph Gunther

The biggest question mark entering training camp for the Minnesota Vikings was the offensive line. While it seems there is more depth than in recent seasons, things have not changed.

Starting right tackle Phil Loadholt suffered a season-ending achilles injury in the second preseason game. It became a little more concerning when backup tackle Carter Bykowski suffered an injury in the same game. It was nearly a week later that the Vikings found out Bykowski needed season-ending surgery as well.

That left the team with four experienced veterans (two at positions they have little to no experience playing) and a rookie in the starting lineup as well as a rookie, first-year former practice squad player and 11-year veteran as the reserves. To supplement the depth, the Vikings acquired Jeremiah Sirles from the San Diego Chargers for a sixth round draft pick during the waiver period. Sirles spent most of last season on the Chargers’ practice squad.

“(Sirles is) a guy who played some last year. We watched him throughout the preseason and just felt like we needed some more people there,” head coach Mike Zimmer said at his weekly Monday press conference. “We obviously scoured all kinds of rosters throughout this and he was a guy we kind of pinpointed.”

The addition of Sirles and his versatility is even more important because starting center John Sullivan has not practiced in three weeks. Versatile backup Joe Berger will likely take his spot in the starting lineup. Berger, now 33-years-old, has been a reliable and stabilizing backup. The Vikings will likely lean heavily on him to be a leader with Mike Harris transitioning from tackle to guard and rookie fourth round draft pick T. J. Clemmings starting to his right and Brandon Fusco transitioning from right guard to left guard and Matt Kalil on his left.

Sherels just keeps making the team

Marcus Sherels has been an underdog every step of his journey to the National Football League. He was a walk-on at the University of Minnesota out of high school in Rochester, Minn. After having an outstanding collegiate career, he went to the Vikings rookie mini-camp on a tryout and was extended a contract for training camp and the preseason.

He did not make the team in his first two tries, but made his NFL debut in 2010 and has been on the active roster every game since, including three starts. Over four-plus seasons, he has just 90 tackles, 10 passes defensed, one sack, one interception, one forced fumble and three fumble recoveries. He also has the highest punt return average (10.5 yards per return) in Vikings history, including a season record 15.2 yards per return in 2013. Only David Palmer and Mewelde Moore have as many punt return touchdowns as Sherels with two.

Despite all stats, every year, Sherels goes through training camp and the preseason likely with a roster spot on the line. Sherels is one of those players that makes a big impact on special teams, but struggles on offense or defense.

“He’s a guy that when he gets opportunities, he keeps making plays,” Zimmer said. “Returning, he’s the best gunner we have, he’s returned really well, he can kickoff return if we need him. We’ve had him playing in the nickel some this year. He’s a guy that has a lot of value because of all of the things he can do. It’s a nice story for a guy like him, like you say, everybody is trying to get him cut before the season, and just keeps finding a way.”

This year, many wondered if Sherels would make the team because of the elusiveness and punt return ability of fifth round draft pick Stefon Diggs. Diggs had a very good preseason with a dazzling 62-yard punt return in the first game and had at least one return of 25 yards in all but one game. Sherels and Diggs both made the team, which may give special teams coach Mike Priefer an opportunity to be tricky during the regular season.

Joseph Gunther is an avid fan of Minnesota sports, including football, hockey and baseball. He covered a wide variety of sports while attending Hastings College in Hastings, Neb. While at Hastings College, he was a part of the first collegiate media group to broadcast a national tournament via television, radio, internet and newspaper at the 2004 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball Tournament. He grew up in the Twin Cities playing three years of varsity football in high school. Joseph is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.

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