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Vikings put load on Clemmings at right tackle

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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings are 2-0 in the preseason, the offense is clicking without Adrian Peterson and the defense is doing OK without Anthony Barr.

Even so, all is not right in Minnesota.

The No. 1 preseason goal of all NFL teams – keep everyone of significance healthy – was lost on the second snap of Saturday night’s 26-16 win over Tampa Bay at TCF Bank Stadium.

Phil Loadholt, the team’s starting right tackle since 2009, crumpled to the ground trying to block Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. He managed to hobble his 6-8, 343-pound body to the sideline, but the news wasn’t good: Torn left Achilles tendon. Out for the year.

“It’s a rough sport,” center John Sullivan said. “Your heart aches for guys when they get injured. But it’s the next-man-up mentality. That’s the way it has to be.”

The Vikings’ initial reaction is to stay in-house and cover the position with rookie fourth-round draft pick T.J. Clemmings. Many, including the Vikings, viewed Clemmings as a first-round talent that slid to the fourth round because of his combine physical.

A medical evaluation performed at the scouting combine revealed an old stress fracture in Clemmings foot. But Clemmings never missed any time at Pitt or in high school because of a stress fracture, nor did he ever experience any foot issues in practice.

“We draft these guys to get in there and play,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “I think Clemmings did a good job [Saturday], so we’ll see.”

Loadholt had missed only one game in his career before tearing a pectoral muscle and missing the final five games of last season. His replacement last season, Mike Harris, was moved to right guard, where he is the front-runner to start despite having played only part of one regular season game at guard in an emergency situation a year ago.

“I’ve been playing right tackle my whole career so if the team needs me to move out there, that’s fine with me,” Harris said. “I’m getting more comfortable at guard, but tackle is more natural for me, so I wouldn’t mind going back out there if the coaches make that decision.”

The Vikings experimented with Clemmings as the starter at right guard, but determined during their June minicamp that he’s better suited at tackle. He was being earmarked as the No. 3 tackle until Loadholt went down.

“Oh, man, this is unexpected,” Clemmings said. “I’m not sure about anything after tonight. I think I did all right. I just have to make sure I know exactly what I’m doing out there if I’m the starter. And learn my technique. I should be OK with those two things.”

Clemmings actually did play well in three series with the first team and five more with the second unit. The first unit scored twice in three possessions and exited with a 9-0 lead. The second unit scored two touchdowns for a 23-9 lead at the half.

If not for Loadholt’s injury, the talk of the night would have been the speed and efficiency with which the top two quarterbacks – Teddy Bridgewater and Shaun Hill – operated Norv Turner’s up-tempo offense.

Together, they completed 15 of 17 passes – each with only one incompletion – and 190 yards and no interceptions. Hill also threw two touchdown passes in his first preseason action of the year.

But all of that took a secondary spot behind the news that the Vikings will be without their big veteran right tackle for the rest of the year.

NOTES

–As vastly improved as it was a year ago, the Vikings’ defense still couldn’t stop the run in critical situations. That’s been a point of emphasis for the coaching staff since the end of last season.

That’s what makes the first three plays of the Bucs game hard to overlook. On three straight runs, Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin had gains of five, eight and seven yards.

On a fourth consecutive run, he was dropped for a one-yard loss by linebacker Chad Greenway. After that, the run defense was fine. But those three runs looked a lot like last season, when the defense couldn’t stop the cutback runs.

“We did get off the field both times [Saturday] with no issues,” said Greenway, referring to the starting defense. “But we just want to make sure we don’t get those leaky cutback runs like we did last year. We did well, but we’re also happy it’s only August.”

–Rookie first-round draft pick Trae Waynes continues to look like a rookie cornerback. After racking up three penalties and getting beat deep once in the Hall of Fame game the week before, Waynes was partially responsible for giving up a 40-yard completion from Jameis Winston to Vincent Jackson on Saturday.

“He’s still continuing to learn,” Zimmer said. “He’s got some things to work on. He obviously got beat on the post. I didn’t see the play, but he should have had help.”

Strong safety Robert Blanton was out of position on the deep ball. Instead of proving help over the top, he was trapped underneath Jackson when the receiver got behind Waynes.

“Trae is going to have to continue to get better and keep fighting and getting practice,” Zimmer said. “This is the best, best deal for young guys to get a chance to go up against receives like they’ve got [Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson]. Those are two pretty good receivers, so those are the kinds of guys you need to go up against and find out what you need to do to get better.”

–Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson continues to battle in an effort to be elevated from second team to first team. He caught a 21-yard touchdown pass from Hill in the second quarter, but then lost some points with the coaching staff when he was flagged 15 yards for taunting. He reacted to linebacker Kwon Alexander, head-butting him after Alexander had gotten in Patterson’s face after a tackle.

“The guy got in my face and I said some things back,” Patterson said. “I thought they were calling it on him, but they called it on me. You just have to learn from mistakes like that.”


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