Clemmings says ‘solid start,’ Turner pleased

Minnesota Vikings rookie T.J. Clemmings is working to improve with the pressure on after a season-ending injury to Phil Loadholt.

T.J. Clemmings went from starting right guard in organized team activities in May to backup right tackle in training camp.

But in the first game following the Minnesota Vikings’ break from training camp in Mankato, Clemmings became the de factor starting right tackle after a torn Achilles was the confirmed diagnosis for veteran Phil Loadholt.

Clemmings was called upon after the second play of Saturday’s night 26-16 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when Loadholt limped off the field with what turned out to be his season-ending injury. The call to duty was quick, but the road to consistency is still being forged.

“I feel like I’m getting ready and getting there. Every day is just about getting better and improving and not making the same mistakes twice. Really, that’s my focus. That’s my goal,” Clemmings said.

He admitted he is still a work in progress, as would be expected from a rookie fourth-round draft pick, but duty calls and Clemmings has three more preseason games to get NFL-ready.

“People ask me all the time, ‘What is it you want to improve on?’ and for me, I’m so focused on getting technique better because technique will take you a long way,” he said. “Just technique and simple things with my footwork and my hands, just getting those better every day is really what I want to do.”

The Vikings likely will look to supplement their offensive line with a free-agent addition, but Clemmings is the likely starter going forward. As long as he continues to progress.

“I thought T.J. Clemmings has been improving since he got here. He’s having an outstanding camp,” offensive coordinator Norv Turner said. “He played well in the Hall of Fame game. He gets thrown into action earlier in (Saturday’s) game. I thought he played extremely well. He’s a young player with a bright future and he’s going to have to step it up. Our offensive line has played well in both games.”

The insertion of Clemmings means that three of the five spots on the offensive line will have different starters than how the Vikings intended things to go entering last year.

John Sullivan remains at center and Matt Kalil at left tackle. But Brandon Fucso has moved to left guard between Kalil and Sullivan after the Vikings moved on from Charlie Johnson. That left an opening at right guard, where Mike Harris has been inserted since the start of training camp. Harris filled in for the final five games last year when Loadholt was lost with a pectoral injury. And now Clemmings is the latest addition on the right side of the line.

Turner said Harris and Fusco have looked “awfully good” and Kalil has had two good outings in the first preseason games.

“I think we’ve made progress and we identified things in the offseason that we need to do to help them be better,” Turner said. “… I think the culmination of those things is showing up.”

Clemmings is the latest wild card in the equation after a rocky road in 2014 for the offensive line due to injuries and uneven play.

“It’s not bad. Definitely doing some good things. Definitely some things that I need to work on and clean up each day,” Clemmings said of his first two games. “Solid start, I would say.”

The biggest challenge has been the increased speed of play in the NFL, but Clemmings said he was prepared by Loadholt for the different stages of speed.

“Guys, they react faster so it’s really just making sure I’m up to speed and knowing what I’m doing,” Clemmings said.

“(Loadholt is) teaching me the steps of how, coming in during the OTAs, minicamps, training camp and then preseason and regular season, how the speed changes through all those phases. Just helping me mentally prepare for that because coming in, OTA speed, you’re like, ‘Oh, it’s not that fast.’ And then you get to training camp and it’s that much faster. Preseason picks up a little bit. Just him telling me something as simple as that has been a great help mentally for me.”

Clemmings said he has talked with Loadholt since the injury and let him know his thoughts and prayers are with him. Loadholt reciprocated by telling the rookie that he can call any time he needs some advice.

But, so far, so good for the 6-foot-5, 320-pound 23-year old who played his first two seasons at Pittsburgh on the defensive line.

“I think he’s improved a great deal and we’ve spent a lot of time, extra time, on pass protection,” Turner said. “I think that’s where he’s really improved. He’s an explosive player. He’s got good feet. He uses his hands well. He’s inexperienced. That’s the one thing you say where he’s got to catch up.”

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