Typically mid-round rookies don’t get a lot of attention or acclaim, but T.J. Clemmings isn’t your typical mid-round rookie.
A player who had a draft grade as a late-first or second-round draft pick, Clemmings fell all the way to the fourth round after it was discovered at the NFL Scouting Combine that he had a calcified bone in his foot where he had suffered a stress fracture.
Since then, he was shifted from his natural position at right tackle to right guard and back to right tackle. He went from being a frontrunner to start at right guard to a player seemingly destined to be a backup to Phil Loadholt.
But when Loadholt was lost for the season with a torn Achilles tendon, Clemmings was pushed into action as the starting right tackle, making his NFL debut last Monday night.
While he admitted he didn’t have a stellar game, he felt it was a good starting point.
“It wasn’t a bad start for a first game,” Clemmings said. “There are a lot of things I definitely need to improve on – I made some mistakes out there reading moves – but I think it was a good place to start and I’ll learn from those things and get better from having gone through it.”
Clemmings wasn’t overly concerned about being moved to guard despite never playing the position, but wasn’t unhappy about being moved back to his natural position at right tackle.
When it came right down to it, Clemmings knew he was a rookie on a veteran offensive line and, had the coaches asked him to play center, he would have given it a shot.
“That was up to the coaches and I was fine with it,” Clemmings said about his move from tackle to guard and back again. “I was looking to get my opportunities, so wherever they said, ‘T.J. go,’ that’s where I would have went and I would have tried to do my best. In the end, it worked out and I’m back at right tackle. That’s my best position, so I feel good about playing there and I’m comfortable with it.”
One of the keys for Clemmings making the ascent from anticipated backup to frontline starter was the help he got from his veteran teammates. For a young roster, the offensive line is strewn with veterans – from John Sullivan (8th season), Phil Loadholt (7th), Brandon Fusco (5th), Matt Kalil (4th), Joe Berger (11th) and Mike Harris (4th).
While the NFL was new to Clemmings, he was in one of the most veteran position rooms on the team and had plenty of teammates willing to teach/mentor him on the little nuances of the game that has helped his integration into the offense.
“They teach me a lot of the little things,” Clemmings said. “They helped me to go through the stages – OTAs to minicamp to training camp to the preseason to now. Just the mental aspect of it, they’ve definitely been helpful along the way. I appreciate that.”
One of the challenges for any rookie, much less an exterior offensive lineman, is picking up to the speed of the game. That process is made more complicated by the daunting playbook Norv Turner runs his offense from.
A classic problem for rookies is trying to master the verbiage and multiple possibilities on a play call when audibles are called. Each brought its own set of challenges and Clemmings has been forced to get up to speed on both ends of that learning curve.
“The playbook is about 10 times bigger than what I dealt with in college, so that took some adjusting,” Clemmings said. “As far as the speed of the game, you just have to know your assignment and your responsibility for each play. That helps to slow things down for you. Sometimes you start thinking too much and that’s when you make mistakes – you end up slowing down and everybody else is going at a different speed. You just try not to think too much other than getting your assignment done right each play.”
If not for a medical report coming out of the Combine, Clemmings likely wouldn’t have been a Viking. The organization had more pressing needs in the second and third rounds of the draft, where Clemmings was expected to land on draft weekend. He can thank a Combine doctor for ending up as a Viking and having the chance to start as rookie. For that, he’s grateful and looking to make the other 31 teams that passed on him regret it, because he’s where he believes he was destined to be.
“To tell you the truth, I’ve said since Day One that I was going to go to the right team – God’s going to put me in the right place at the right time with the right team,” Clemmings said. “I’ve never worried about my foot. My foot has been fine. It’s never been an issue. It was for other people, but never for me. I don’t even think about until you guys (in the media) bring it up. The biggest thing is I’m here, I’ve got my foot in the door and I’m going to make the most of my opportunity. That’s all that matters.”