T.J. Clemmings’ versatility may be called into action Sunday against the San Diego Chargers.
Clemmings, a defensive lineman in his early college years at Pittsburgh and a rookie right tackle last year for the Minnesota Vikings that got called into starting duty when Phil Loadholt was lost for the season, could be seeing action at left tackle Sunday. That’s because starting left tackle Matt Kalil left practice on Tuesday with an apparent leg injury and didn’t practice Wednesday.
Clemmings had been getting some practice at both tackle spots throughout training camp, so his familiarity at left tackle is building.
“Same as the right at this point. I just flip it. I guess it just feels the same to me now pretty much,” he said.
There are challenges to the switch.
“I think it’s a real challenge for a young player, and I’ve been impressed with the way he handles it. We know he made progress as a right tackle last year. He gets thrown over to the left side, and when he has played there for an extended period of time, he continues to grow,” offensive coordinator Norv Turner said. “But someone has to be the swing tackle. Every team in the league has to have a guy that can play right and left (tackle), and he’s capable of doing both for us. I think he’s making progress and becoming the type of player that can play both.”
Clemmings’ spot on the roster appears secure, and he is likely going to be the first backup options for Kalil on the left side and right tackle Andre Smith, who was in a competition for the starting right tackle spot with Clemmings during training camp.
This spring and summer was Clemmings’ first time getting reps on the left side.
The only other time he saw any time at left tackle, even in a practice situation? The Senior Bowl prior to him being drafted in the fourth round in 2015.
For Clemmings, the biggest challenge is handling the speed of the defensive ends and linebackers that the left tackle often sees in the NFL. That’s especially true in practices with the Vikings.
“You’ve got Everson Griffen over there giving me a great look every time. You get a little more speed,” Clemmings said.
“He’s a great player. You know that he’s watching you and he’s reacting off what you do so you have to try your best to make sure your sets are as good as possible or your hands are as good as possible and kind of just shoot them and try to get a punch on him. He’s a great athlete. He’s been around for awhile and he’ll be around for a long time.”
But, while most consider the right defensive ends, the ones that Kalil and now Clemmings will see, to be the better pass rushers on teams, Turner said that isn’t always the case anymore in the NFL.
“Nowadays, a lot of people are putting their best rusher on the offense’s right. The biggest thing is everything’s flipped, and you get used to playing with your right foot back and punching with your left hand and doing all the things you do on the right,” Turner said. “Then, all of the sudden, you go to the left side, and everything’s the same but just opposite. So, you just have to hit that switch and understand that it’s on the left side, and it’s going to be totally different.”
Although he didn’t face Griffen when Clemmings was working at right tackle, he did get some work against the speedy Danielle Hunter, who was drafted one round before Clemmings last year.
“They both bring power. They both have pretty good speed,” Clemmings said of Hunter and Griffen. “Danielle is a little bit longer player, a little lanky, so he can shoot a long arm from a lot farther away than maybe Everson can, but they both have great moves.”
No matter who is bringing the “great moves,” Clemmings’ challenge is to stop them, no matter which side of the line he’s playing.