Austin Wentworth was in an unfamiliar position. He went from the sidelines to playing with the starters in the blink of an eye, or bruising of an ankle, as the case turned out to be.
But no matter how quickly Wentworth had to be prepared and the difficult circumstances the undrafted rookie faced, he never used it as an excuse. Instead, it clearly bothered Wentworth that he gave up a sack that caused a safety on only his second snap with the starters Saturday night in Kansas City. Wentworth returned to that play in a conversation several times, even when he wasn’t being asked about it. Mistakes can be hard to erase from the memory banks for rookies on the roster fringe.
When Phil Loadholt hurt his ankle in the first quarter, Wentworth was called upon quickly, but things didn’t go well early. On his second snap with the starters, Wentworth gave up the sack to Chiefs defensive lineman Jaye Howard, who zipped past Wentworth, hit Matt Cassel and knocked the ball out of the end zone for a safety.
“I just thought he was a different technique than he was and used poor footwork. Now that I look back, that will never happen again, so cross it off the to-do list,” Wentworth said, trying to make the best of a bad play.
Wentworth quickly experienced the life of a backup offensive lineman. Be ready in an instant to perform, even if you’ve never been in that situation before.
“It happens quick, I’ll tell you that. It’s the same thing in college. You get thrown in and you’ve got to pick up where everybody left off,” he said. “I dropped the ball a little on that second play, but you’ve just got to clap it off and move on to the next play like I did.”
Wentworth’s job was to watch Loadholt and offer advice on what he was doing right and wrong. He figured that duty would last into the third quarter while the starters were on the field before he would get his chance. Suddenly, when Loadholt came limping off the field in the first quarter with the Vikings holding a 7-0 lead, offensive line coach Jeff Davidson quickly let Wentworth know the job was his.
“You just get ready, strap it up and go in,” said the rookie lineman that helped protect Derek Carr at Fresno State and earned honorable mention All-American from Sports Illustrated.
But the “next man up” mantra quickly turned into “quarterback down” and the Chiefs had their first points of the game. Loadholt tried to return for more plays but eventually gave way to Wentworth again.
The timing was made more difficult because Wentworth is on the roster fringe and every mistake is magnified. But, after putting that early mistake behind him and acclimating to the increased speed he was facing against starting NFL defensive linemen, the rookie performed better.
“If you get thrown in there it’s got to say something good. But right now in our lives, nothing is safe,” he said. “You get in there, you try and do good and my second play wasn’t a good one. I tried to bounce back. I had a pretty good, solid third quarter with the ones. You’ve just got to go in there and play like you can and not give up a safety.”
Fortunately, players are evaluated on the whole of their work when coaches are making roster decisions over the next week. Wentworth and others will have a full offseason of practices, training camp and their preseason action to speak to their chances to make the team.
As a backup, he has to be ready and versatile. Over the past four months, he has worked at right tackle and left tackle, both guard spots and received limited reps at center. It’s not an easy task for someone trying to enter the NFL and learn a new offense, but that’s exactly the point: Coaches can’t make it easy on players when their game-day duties won’t be easy.
“It’s a mind game a little bit,” he said of learning all the different positions on the offensive line. “You’ve got to switch it over in your head – have the switch where you go left to right and then center is a whole different game that I haven’t gotten too much yet. Going from tackle to guard at first is a little difficult, but I think (Davidson) does a good job of rotating us in here and there so you never get too rusty at it.”
He figures going against defensive linemen like Brian Robison and Everson Griffen throughout the offseason and training camp will only make him better prepared if he does make the 53-man roster, but there is plenty of competition for what could amount to one backup tackle spot on the 53-man roster. The Vikings already released Kevin Murphy, who spent one game on the active roster last year, but still have rookie Antonio Richardson and second-year tackle Mike Remmers as alternative options, as well as all the players that will hit waivers in the coming week.
“You try not to think about it because it will get to your head if you do,” he said. “I can tell you it makes you a little nervous, but it makes you a better player because you’re fighting out here to get better. It’s good to have competition.
“You’re always living on the seat of your pants.”
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Wentworth putting early mistake behind him
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