MANKATO, Minn. (AP) In mere months, Alex Boone has established himself as the alpha male of Minnesota's offensive line.
Heavily tattooed and 6-foot-8 and 310 pounds with the boisterous personality to match, Boone is already the standout in a group that has collectively struggled in recent seasons. The edge he brings to playing left guard is part of why the Vikings gave him a four-year contract this spring worth as much as $26.8 million.
Humility has helped spur his development, too. Being bypassed in the 2009 NFL draft after alcohol-fueled off-the-field trouble led to a sobering up. Then there was Sept. 23, 2012, when Boone and the San Francisco 49ers came to the Metrodome to take on the Vikings he'd one day be playing for.
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Boone's opponent in that game was Kevin Williams, who recently retired after 13 seasons and five All-Pro selections. Nearly four years later, the memory of being dominated that afternoon by a defensive tackle seven years older than him is still beneficially vivid.
''I thought, `He's just old. He ain't got it anymore. He's not going to do anything,''' Boone said, ''and he just beat me all up and down the field. He made me a better player, and it really opened my eyes to the league.''
The lesson about overconfidence came in his first season as a starter on a team that advanced to the Super Bowl.
''I told him during the game, too, that he's probably the most respected person in this game because of what he did to me,'' Boone recalled upon reporting to training camp last week.
Boone received a roaring ovation that day from the autograph-seeking fans as the players filed into their residence hall at Minnesota State University, a sign of the angst that has surrounded the front five in Minnesota in recent years. Boone's presence will loom large for quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and the Vikings.
''He's brought an attitude, lots more character to the room,'' right guard Brandon Fusco said.
Tony Sparano was hired as the new offensive line coach, too, another critical injection of tenacity. Left tackle Matt Kalil, his hands full in practice with defensive end Everson Griffen, has pleased the staff in camp so far with his performance. Center John Sullivan has returned from two back surgeries that erased his 2015 season to compete with Joe Berger for the starting job. Newcomer Andre Smith is on track to be the right tackle next to Fusco, who has shifted to his original spot.
''If everybody believes in the same thing and buys into the same thing that we're going to be the toughest, the meanest, the nastiest group, it's not going to take very long for everybody to get on the same page,'' Boone said. ''I think it's crucial that everybody does buy into that.''
Coach Mike Zimmer said he's already noticed the attitude effect on the locker room. A conversation with linebacker Chad Greenway confirmed this.
''He said, `He's great. People respect him,''' Zimmer said. ''He has kind of changed the mentality of the offensive line room, him and coach Sparano, and that's a good thing.''
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