The oversized human missed the final five games of the 2014 season with a torn pectoral muscle and all of 2015 with a torn Achilles tendon. The picture of consistently being available turned to his frame consistently hanging out in the trainer’s room.
“It’s been extremely frustrating considering the fact that I think I only missed a game or two before that over the first couple of years or whatever – however many years,” Loadholt said Wednesday. “That last injury I had, hopefully that will be the last one I have.”
The 6-foot-8, 345-pounder went from rarely missing a game to missing the last 22 regular-season and playoff games his team has played.
Tuesday marked his return to the turf for a full-team practice for the first time since he torn his Achilles in a preseason game last August.
“It was a little weird putting the helmet and stuff back on again, getting back into cleats and stuffs, but it’s definitely something I’m embracing and happy to be doing it again,” he said.
He says he is 100 percent now, but that’s from a health standpoint. Wednesday seemed to prove that there is a difference between simply being able to practice and truly getting back in the groove.
There were signs of rust and struggles.
On back-to-back occasions in his second organized team activity, second-year defensive end Danielle Hunter got around Loadholt for what would have been a sack of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater had full contact been allowed.
“I feel like I’m moving pretty well,” Loadholt said, before adding, “I’ve got some things I’ve got to get better at, obviously. But I’m working hard to get better at those things and be ready to roll.”
Loadholt joined center John Sullivan as the offensive linemen who missed all of the 2015 season with injury but returned to the practice field this week. Loadholt was taking first-team reps at right tackle, which was his role before his back-to-back seasons with injury. Sullivan was taking second-team reps at center, with Joe Berger resuming where he left off as Sullivan’s able replacement in 2015.
Adrian Peterson, teammates with Loadholt since their days together at the University of Oklahoma, knows something about coming back from injury after tearing up his knee in December 2011. Sometimes the mental grind is worse than the physical, especially trusting that the injury has fully healed.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/vikings/story/1672756-video-zimmer-at-otas “Just continue doing what you’ve been doing and what’s gotten you to this point now that you’re back out here at your position,” Peterson said. “… The hardest thing for me coming back from the injury was, you know, I was ready to roll. I was ready, but mentally that pull can really get you, like, ‘Am I really ready? Can I do this? Can I not do that?’ So defeating yourself mentally is the biggest thing.”
While Peterson was the easy starter once he returned from injury, Loadholt has legitimate competition for his job. The Vikings signed former Cincinnati Bengals first-round pick Andre Smith to compete for the job at right tackle.
“He’s a good player. He’s been around. I’ve been knowing him since we’ve been in the league together,” Loadholt said (Both were drafted in 2009). “That’s what the NFL is all about – you’ve got to compete every year for your job so it will be fun.”
There was some question whether the Vikings would even keep Loadholt in 2016 after his back-to-back injuries. In order to get the chance to compete for a spot again, he was asked to and accepted a pay cut instead of risking a move away from the Vikings for the first time since they selected him in the second round of the 2009 draft.
Judging by his reaction Wednesday, he knew the pay cut might be a possibility long before it happened in March. Turned out, it was a sizable deduction, moving from a scheduled cap hit of $7.75 million to $3.75 million this year.
“My whole thing was just getting back on the field. I just wanted to get back on the field. I knew some things had to happen or whatever, but I didn’t really care,” he said.
No doubt Smith will provide stiff competition for the starting job, but despite holding the starting job, when healthy, since his rookie season, Loadholt said he has always approached the offseason as if he had to earn his spot in the starting lineup.
“I approach it just like every year, coming in and competing for my job. That’s been my mindset every year, no matter how it may look to everyone else,” he said. “If they’re saying, ‘Phil Loadholt is going to be the right tackle’ or they’re not saying it, every year I come in with the mindset that I’m competing for my job. It will be fun. That’s the way I look at it.”
At the very least, he’s back on the practice field with another chance to play a regular-season game for the first time since November 2014.