Melander likes odds with Vikings

Former Minnesota offensive lineman Rian Melander is an undrafted free agent who signed with the nearest pro team. But he’s not just giving it a shot.

David McCoy

Rian Melander is not cutting a fresh trail.

The former Minnesota offensive lineman certainly isn’t the first football player to have gone undrafted in the NFL’s annual draft in April. And after signing with the Minnesota Vikings, he most certainly isn’t the first undrafted player to have signed as a free agent hoping to make an impression in training camp.

But Melander isn’t planning on just making an impression. He’s planning on making the team.

“I feel pretty confident,” Melander said. “The reason is, they didn’t take any other tackles in the draft and they took me and another guy (as) free agent(s). So I think I’m sitting at a pretty good spot right now.”

Behind starting tackles Bryant McKinnie and Mike Rosenthal, the Vikings have four players listed at tackle on their roster besides Melander.

It’s improbable that all of them will make the team. But Vikings offensive coordinator Steve Loney said Melander has good reason to be confident about making the cut.

“So many things can change, but our numbers are such that we don’t have to cut a lot of offensive linemen,” Loney said. “And you still have practice squad guys, so I don’t think his enthusiasm for that is misplaced at all.”

But Melander doesn’t think roster size is the only thing going in his favor.

He said the speed of the game during mini-camp was the hardest thing to adjust to, but that he’s now caught up.

The 6-foot-7-inch Melander also increased his size, bulking up from 287 pounds at the end of college to 308 around the time of the draft. He’s currently listed at 295. But that still makes him the lightest tackle on the Vikings’ roster.

Gophers tight ends and tackles coach Mitch Browning said that’s the one thing that could hurt Melander’s chances the most.

“He gotten bigger and stronger, and that partly comes with maturity,” Browning said. “But he still may be a little undersized.”

Interestingly, Browning wasn’t the only one who had something to do with Melander’s development at Minnesota. In fact, Loney was the Gophers’ offensive coordinator in 1998-99 and played a big role in recruiting Melander.

Along with his improvements in size and speed, Melander, who graduated early from Minnesota with a degree in business marketing, said he’s also counting on his smarts to make the grade on the gridiron.

“I think the biggest part is learning the playbook and making the fewest mistakes possible,” Melander said. “Because I think, first and foremost, that’s the part that’s going to get you cut.”