As the Minnesota Vikings explore their options after an Achilles injury is expected to sideline starting right tackle Phil Loadholt for the entire 2015 season, the answer could be in-house.
A magnetic resonance imaging test on Sunday is expected to show that Loadholt tore his Achilles tendon and is out for the season. So in the next-man-up world of the NFL, what are the Vikings’ options?
They are already exploring them.
Loadholt was hurt on the second play of the game and rookie T.J. Clemmings was inserted for him and played 32 snaps. He appears to be the front-running option to replace Loadholt and took the assignment in stride.
“I am just going to keep doing what I have been doing. My mindset is to work hard and keep working on my craft every single day,” Clemmings said. “My focus, regardless of the situation, is to work hard, improve on what I need to, and take in as much information from the veterans as I can.”
Clemmings started organized team activities in May at right guard after playing right tackle his final two seasons at the University of Pittsburgh. By minicamp, he had been moved to right tackle as Loadholt’s backup, and head coach Mike Zimmer said Clemmings did a good job in his action at tackle Saturday night, playing both with the starters and the second team.
“I thought he did well. It’s hard for me to see everything, but I thought we protected well (Saturday) night for the quarterbacks,” Zimmer said. “Our completion percentage was off the charts. We did a lot of good things, and when you can protect like that it makes it better for the quarterback. But we did a nice job with protection.”
Another option would be to move Mike Harris from right guard to right tackle. Harris started the final five games of 2014 there after a torn pectoral muscle ended Loadholt’s season.
But Harris has been the starting right guard since the Vikings opened training camp three weeks ago and the Vikings would like to minimize the movement on the offensive line, a unit that relies on familiarity and cohesion.
“He’s done pretty good at guard, so we’ll talk about all that this week and see,” Zimmer said of Harris. “I thought T.J. did a nice job when he was in there. He’s a terrific athlete and that’s where he feels more comfortable, at tackle. So, we’ll just keep going there and keep going.”
Like Clemmings, rookie Tyrus Thompson also saw 32 snaps at tackle, but Thompson hasn’t been as consistent as Clemmings during training camp and the preseason. Carter Bykowski, who was signed last year after his release from the San Francisco 49ers, might be another option.
The Vikings could also look in free agency. The top name available among offensive linemen is veteran guard Evan Mathis, but he is reportedly seeking $5.5 million this year and will turn 34 during the season.
For now, it appears Clemmings is the favorite.
“I can only focus on playing my game,” the low-key Clemmings said. “I just do exactly what the coaches tell me to do and play to the best of my ability on every play.”