Vikings double down on OL interest

The Vikings have continued to show interest in an offensive lineman throughout the predraft process. Get the full scouting report and why he is such an interesting prospect.

The Minnesota Vikings show interest in numerous players during the predraft process, but one seems to be getting extra attention and fits the team’s past path.

The Vikings visited with Pittsburgh offensive tackle T.J. Clemmings at the NFL Scouting Combine, and now Clemmings told USA Today in his draft diary that the Vikings worked him out since the combine.

The double-down on scouting is interesting for two reasons. First, the Vikings are returning both of their starting tackles, Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt, from the past three seasons. However, Kalil is entering the final year of his contract with a $6.29 million salary-cap hit, but also has a fifth-year option for 2016 as a 2012 first-round draft pick. Loadholt is signed through 2016 with his 2013 renegotiation, with salary-cap hits of $$6.75 million in 2015 and $7.75 million in 2016.

It’s also interesting because Clemmings made a position switch midstream during his University of Pittsburgh career. After not living up to his standards on the defensive line, his coaches asked him about a switch to the offensive line. He proved not only willing, but very able.

“At the time, I wasn’t having the success I wanted on defense and offensive line was literally my last option,” Clemmings said. “I wanted to get back on the field. I wanted to start again. Just thinking about being on the field again, wherever that was, it made it feel right.

“All the techniques were difficult at first. It was more the terminology and learning the plays. Once I got that down, I focused a lot more on techniques and got those down as well.”

Although Clemmings is still considered “raw” because of his move to the offensive line, that seems to be a trait the Vikings embrace with some of their draft picks, believing their coaching can create a more polished product and ultimately increase the value of the player over where he might be selected in the draft.

Clemmings is considered a late first-round pick, and the Vikings have been proficient at trading back into the bottom of the first round to select multiple picks on the first day, or they could be hoping he slips into the first half of the second round. He might also be a candidate to play guard, and the Vikings have an opening at left guard after the release of Charlie Johnson.

“I only had two years on the offensive line under my belt and that’s not going to change from now to the draft. I need some work in some things and I am not afraid of that,” the 6-foot-4½, 309-pounder said. “I am ready to work on things that people feel I need to work on.”

Blocking for the Panthers, Clemmings compiled a blocking consistency grade of 85.04 percent, as he generated 157 key blocks/knockdowns. He recorded 15 downfield blocks and 30 touchdown-resulting blocks, yielding just a half-sack through 1,771 plays on offense.

Here is Clemmings’ scouting report from lead NFL scout Dave-Te’ Thomas:

While left tackle is regarded as football’s “glamour” position on the front wall, you have to be impressed with the numbers that Clemmings produced this season at right tackle. Outside of having fits trying to contain Virginia Tech’s speed rusher Dadi Nicolas, the two-year offensive player earned winning grades for blocking consistency in each of the other 11 contests.

Clemmings did not begin playing football until his high school junior season, then saw action in eight games as a reserve defensive end before the Pitt coaches shifted him to the offensive line in 2013. That year, he responded with 77 knockdowns and 10 touchdown-resulting blocks.

Even with just two seasons as a starter under his belt, Clemmings displays very good overall awareness, showing a clear understanding of his assignments. He does a better-than-average job of picking up blitzes and stunts. He seems sluggish at times establishing his pass pro set and is at his best in shorter sets when he can lock on to defenders and ride them wide. He is technically sound in the run game and can be very efficient when working in limited space.

Clemmings is still inconsistent with his hand placement (all six pressured allowed in 2014 came with the defender escaping him with an inside move), but when he keeps them inside his frame, he gets very good success trying to steer and sustain. With his large wingspan, he’s become a highly efficient reach blocker and if he keeps those hands active, he has no problem fending defenders off his chest plate.

As good as his 2014 season was statistically, he did have some big problems with the snap cadence, resulting in eight penalties last year (seven false starts, one holding call) and while NFL scouts are certain that he will have no problems dealing with the mental aspect of the game, he needs to play with better awareness in the trenches to eliminate these costly penalties.

Clemmings has good sustained speed, and when he’s coming off the snap, he gets a very strong thrust, playing at the right pad level and with his arms inside his frame to instantly attack the defender’s chest. He has the nimble feet to get into position in order to take advantage of his assignment off the snap, doing a nice job of gaining a step on the blitzing linebackers. He has good explosion off the snap and good timed speed, but when he gets high in his stance, he will sometimes get too erect, making him struggle a bit to redirect.

When Clemmings shifts his weight and bends at the knees, he is quite capable of handling the edge rusher’s spin moves. When he gets too rigid in his stance or dips his shoulder, edge rushers have good success escaping and pressuring the pocket (see Akron and Virginia Tech games). For some reason, he seems to struggle when he does not get low in his stance to generate leverage on the move, but he has the reach and extension ability to cover defenders up at the line of scrimmage.

Clemmings is a hard object to move out when he plants his feet firmly at the point of attack. He has a strong hand punch and is very active using those hands in attempts to sustain. He does a solid job executing reach blocks and maintaining position when working in-line. He could use more bulk to clear out and maintain the rush lanes, but shows quick feet in his kick slide.

Clemmings is a consistent drive blocker who works hard to finish. He has the strength and athletic ability to adjust on the move (when he keeps his pad level) and recover when he gets out of position. With his combination of quick footwork, impressive strength and tireless effort, he can easily move the defender off the ball and create big rushing lanes.

Coming off the snap, Clemmings is quick to get his hands into the defender to lock on and control. He has good forward body lean to maintain the rush lane and can move the pile when he uses his legs to drive hard and gain leverage. With added bulk, he could be exceptional as a drive blocker. He has the feet to stay on blocks and sustain and shifts his weight well for a player of his size.

As an offensive tackle, Clemmings is not asked to pull and trap much, but has the quickness to turn it up on the second-level defenders. He is athletic and smooth in his movements and has the body control to execute blocks in space. He just needs to remember to maintain proper pad level working in the second level.

Clemmings generates very good strength behind his hand punch. He has the foot speed and balance to slide back and mirror edge rushers, shifting his weight properly to readjust to inside movement, but when he loses hand control, quicker defenders can slip off his blocks. He has the strong upper body and good lean to lock up and steer his man. He needs to demonstrate better consistency with his shuffle/slide and stay square and balanced attacking the defender. Even if he gets over-extended, he has the quickness to recover.

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