EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) -When the Vikings lured Steve Hutchinson away from Seattle with the richest contract given to a guard, Minnesota's offensive line was automatically supposed to become one of the league's dominant units.
Eighteen games into the Hutchinson Era, the unit has shown signs of steady improvement, but is still striving to become the overpowering force most expect it to be.
``We're coming along,'' left tackle Bryant McKinnie said. ``We're not at our best right now. It's the third game of the season. But I think we're better than we were last season.''
There are good signs: The Vikings are 10th in the league in rushing despite not having Chester Taylor for most of the first two games, and did not allow a sack in the season-opening win over Atlanta.
And there are bad signs: Five of the team's 12 penalties against Detroit on Sunday were committed by the offensive line, and quarterback Tarvaris Jackson was bruised and battered by the Lions.
``I think they'll be the first ones to tell you that they need to improve,'' offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said Thursday. ``There were times in protection that they could have done better. But again, I don't ever want to place it on one person or one group because if the line turns a guy loose the quarterback knows where to go with the ball. ... So it falls on a lot of people.''
Bevell said Jackson can make better reads, the receivers can do a better job of getting open and the running backs have to be able to pick up blitzing defenders when the line leaks.
But the offensive line isn't shying away from its responsibility.
``There's a lot, especially coming from last week, that we need to improve on,'' right guard Artis Hicks said. ``Everybody knows that we need to run the ball, and we want to run the ball. We've just got to do a better job of covering guys up.''
After an impressive debut in which he rushed for 103 yards on 19 carries against the Falcons, rookie Adrian Peterson was held to 66 yards on 22 carries against the Lions.
Hutchinson (false start), McKinnie (false start), center Matt Birk (holding) and right tackle Ryan Cook (holding, false start) all were whistled for penalties in the 20-17 overtime loss.
``Disappointing. Disappointing,'' said Birk, a five-time Pro Bowl center. ``Because we feel like we're better than that, so you look at it this week - we're going on the road again - and it's a chance to cut those out and obviously give ourselves a better chance to win.''
Birk and Co. had hoped that the second year in a new offensive system with the same starting five would lead to more continuity, and better play. The unit played well in the season opener against Atlanta, protecting Jackson and opening nice holes for Peterson in a 24-3 victory.
But with Hutchinson and McKinnie under contracts that would pay them more than $100 million combined if they play them out, and Birk is making close to $4 million this season, the bar for success is set higher.
Coach Brad Childress said he's seen signs of progress from the group.
``They had a 100-yard rusher the first week and had a pretty good defensive line that they played against this past week and I think they are coming along,'' Childress said.
``Are they perfect? No, but I don't know anybody that is and I think it's continuing to grow and it's going to get better and better. And it has gotten better and better.''
Jackson was sacked twice and pressured on many other occasions in a four-interception day against the Lions in Week 2. The Vikings again will be facing a hostile crowd when they travel to Kansas City on Sunday.
Eliminating the penalties will be the biggest priority.
``I think we just need to clean it up,'' McKinnie said. ``We had a bunch of penalties on offense and, especially on the road, that hurts you - and the turnovers we had, got to eliminate those for next week.''
---
AP Sports Writer Dave Campbell contributed to this story.

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