Not time to panic (yet) about Vikings' offensive line injuries

EAGAN, Minn. -- Not even two weeks into the Minnesota Vikings' inaugural camp at TCO Performance Center, and the hits keep coming for the offensive line.

On Monday, a source confirmed to ESPN that Vikings starting left guard Nick Easton, who had been filling in at center during the first nine days of training camp, was seeking a second opinion for neck and back injuries.

Minnesota is down three starters between Easton, who has not practiced since last Friday, Pat Elflein, who started training camp on the PUP list, and Mike Remmers, who injured his left ankle last week.

Though Elflein and Remmers remain sidelined, their absences appears to be more precautionary than concerning. Elflein has been seen rehabbing during practice after undergoing ankle and shoulder surgeries this offseason. One source told ESPN at the start of training camp that Elflein will "be good to go in the near future," with coach Mike Zimmer saying something similar early in camp. Remmers' ankle injury isn't considered to be too serious. Although the Vikings may choose to keep him out awhile longer, Remmers isn't in jeopardy of missing his Week 1 start, according to a source.

Easton's situation may end up being more significant. Seeking a second opinion on injuries typically isn't a great sign.

Is it time to hit the panic button? Short answer: Not yet. Similar circumstances played out last year in training camp with left tackle Riley Reiff, who missed the bulk of the preseason with a back injury but was ready to go by the start of the season.

Three backups face an important test on Saturday in the preseason opener against the Denver Broncos. Remmers, Elflein and Easton might miss the game so the Vikings will try to figure out whether their interior line play can survive with its reserves for now and during the regular season if needed.

Easton's injuries forced center Cornelius Edison into the first-team line up on Saturday. Edison appeared in six games for the Bears in 2016 and was active once for the Vikings last year. Veteran Tom Compton, who has 15 career starts (five at guard, 10 as a tackle), has been filling in at left guard throughout training camp while last year's fifth-round pick Danny Isidora is playing right guard.

"Edison's a fighter," Zimmer. "He's powerful. Compton is playing like a veteran. Isidora, I thought he was better today. Last week wasn't his best week, but we talked about some things so I think he's going to be better and continue to get better."

Zimmer said Monday that quarterback Kirk Cousins will play in the Broncos game for as long as the first-team offensive line is in. If this unit struggles, their time may get cut short.

If the Vikings have to be without Easton for an extended period of time, or if more injuries pop up, their depth will continue to be stretched thin. Aside from the backups holding down roles as stand-in starters, these next few weeks will be critical for players like former Eagles practice squad center Josh Andrews, tackle Aviante Collins, who appeared in three games last season due to injuries that arose starting in Week 5 and never stopped, and sixth-round guard Colby Gossett.

And the right tackle spot is by no means solidified. While Rashod Hill is the projected starter, second-round pick Brian O'Neill has gotten first-team reps in camp and could make a push for the job during the preseason.

These circumstances have been a constant since Zimmer arrived five years ago. In 2014, the regressed play of left tackle Matt Kalil became a liability while injuries piled up. In 2015, the Vikings lost their starting center and right tackle before the season. In 2016, Minnesota lost both of its tackles in the first five weeks before sliding to a disastrous 8-8 finish. Last season, Minnesota used seven different starting offensive line combinations because injuries forced multiple personnel shifts.

A series of events brought the Vikings to where they are now. It started with not placing an RFA tender on veteran swingman Jeremiah Sirles in March followed by right guard Joe Berger's retirement and Minnesota's decision to draft a cornerback in the first round instead of using the pick on an interior lineman.

The depth factor is an issue. Minnesota needs to decide what to do before the questions along the offensive line become a full-fledged crisis.

If the Vikings want to sign someone as an insurance policy, the free-agent guard market doesn't present a ton of options. Luke Joeckel, Jahri Evans and Zane Beadles are among the few available. Zimmer on Tuesday called a report that the Vikings are interested in former Dolphins guard Richie Incognito "totally false."

A trade right now doesn't make a lot of sense. There aren't a lot of teams willing to part with their guards and/or tackles. Second, who would the Vikings have to give up in order to make this happen? If there's no trade partner, there's no trade.

A more realistic thought is that a trade, if it is to happen, would come around cut-down day as teams move their rosters from 90 to 53. The type of player available at that time won't be the flashiest of options, but it might provide the depth Vikings need to survive the season.