The Free Press, Mankato, MN

July 30, 2013

Right side of line continues to gel

Duo played all 17 games together last season

By Jim Rueda
jrueda@mankatofreepress.com

---- — The Vikings' Brandon Fusco and Phil Loadholt are not prepared to take all of the credit for Adrian Peterson's MVP season a year ago, but they're willing to take the blame for some of it.

Fusco, a right guard, and Loadholt, a right tackle, paved the way for a large chunk of Peterson's 2,000-plus rushing yards in 2013. Now, after a full year of competing next to each other on the offensive line, the duo is looking to play even better.

Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave saw both Fusco and Loadholt take a large step forward last season.

"The strides that took place with Phil being in the system for the second year and also the emergence of Brandon Fusco (was significant)," Musgrave said. "Those guys on the right side are very physical and that is what we want to be on offense; that is our identity."

It's not much of a surprise that the 6-foot-7, 332-pound Loadholt is playing well. He was selected in the second round, 54th overall, of the 2009 draft and was penciled in as a starter almost from Day 1.

Fusco's emergence is a bit more unexpected. He wasn't taken until the sixth round of the 2011 draft from Division II Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania. A strong performance in the Senior Bowl and a good showing at the NFL combine helped convince the Vikings to pick him.

Fusco played in just three games as a rookie but fended off the challenge of five-year veteran Geoff Schwartz last season to win the starting right guard spot. He played all 17 games in 2013.

"I learned a lot last year," Fusco said. "The coaches taught me a lot of things.

"I've always been a physical run blocker but my pass blocking needed to get better and that's one of the things we worked on a lot. I picked up the different techniques and the veterans helped me out and I'm still out here working hard trying to become a better player."

Fusco said having a full year of experience playing alongside Loadholt will be a big plus going into this season.

"I'm glad Phil signed here and will be here for awhile. We're pretty close and the calls and the schemes and everything we see out there enables us to communicate well. He's a big guy and we're both physical on that side and we like to get after it.

"It means a lot to be on the same page out on the field. There's not a day goes by that we're not working together trying to be the best duo in the league."

Loadholt said the continuity with Fusco is one of the keys to being successful up front.

"It's extremely important to have that on the offensive line," he said. "We have to play as a unit and that's especially imporant when it comes to the guy you're playing next to.

"It's essential for us to have cohesiveness. Sometimes, on the road, it's hard to hear so just knowing what to expect from the other guy really helps us out."

Loadholt said he could see the right side of the line improving over the course of last season and expects better things this fall. From a personal standpoint, the challenge for the big, tall lineman is to continue improving his movement.

"You're footwork and leverage can always get better," he said. "I think my consistency improved last season; I'm trying to keep that going."