Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY Sports

T.J. Clemmings is getting used to flip-flopping sides in ‘violent game’

Offensive tackle T.J.Clemmings began this season as a backup. Since then he has moved four times - from right tackle to left tackle back to right and, on Sunday, back again to the left side for a critical matchup with Pro Bowler Chandler Jones.

The latest offensive tackle flip-flop for the Minnesota Vikings is happening again, as T.J. Clemmings makes the move back to the left side of the line for Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals.

For the fourth time this season, Clemmings has been pressed into action at one of the two tackle spots.

Coming out of training camp, Clemmings was a reserve but quickly had to move in at right tackle when Andre Smith suffered the first of his injuries. When Matt Kalil went down, Clemmings got flipped over to left tackle. But, after Jake Long showed up, Clemmings went back to right tackle with Smith placed on injured reserve with an elbow injury. After Long tore his Achilles at the end of Sunday’s game, the plan is once again to move Clemmings, this time back to left tackle.

The offensive line has been a source of frustration and, while the “next man up” philosophy remains in play, Clemmings can’t remember a team going through as many injuries up front as this year’s Vikings have endured.

“Those things happen and can’t really be helped,” Clemmings said. “It’s a physical game, a violent game. Our bodies take a lot of punishment throughout the season and throughout a career. It’s part of the game and it’s unfortunate. You have to be ready for any situation, but it does seem like we’ve been having a lot more injuries than any team I’ve ever played on.”

Most players and coaches are of the belief that you get the most out of an offensive lineman by putting him in one spot and keeping him there. When guards or tackles are asked to move from one side to another, everything becomes a mirror image that requires a lot more thought than going on pure instinct. It may not sound right, but overthinking is a bad thing in the NFL because the game is so fast that instincts and repetition are what make players excel.

Clemmings has gotten used to the carousel of flip-flopping sides of the line and, while he would prefer to stay in one spot, the Vikings’ injury woes up front just haven’t allowed it, which has made Clemmings the guy who moves because he has proved he can play both sides.

“The situation has dictated that I’ve had to move from right to left back to right and now back to left,” Clemmings said. “I’m able to help my team by playing both sides and I’m more than willing to go to wherever the coaches feel I’m needed most. If I was just a right tackle, I wouldn’t be able to help out too much right now. But I can play both sides and I am just looking to do what can help our team out the most.”

Sunday’s game with the Cardinals will pose arguably the most daunting threat the Vikings will face all season with pass rushers coming off the edge. Clemmings has faced Calais Campbell already when he was at right tackle last season. This year, it may be an even more difficult assignment – going up against Chandler Jones, who leads the Cardinals with seven sacks.

Clemmings understands the gravity of his situation and knows that Bruce Arians is likely going to be blitzing up the middle, leaving Clemmings and Jeremiah Sirles out on an island since most of the blitz pressure likely will be requiring the interior linemen to handle the inside pressure and tight ends and running backs catching linebackers and defensive backs coming around the edge.

“Both of them are big, athletic guys that are going to be a challenge for us,” Clemmings said. “I played against Campbell quite a bit last year and it was a good challenge. He’s very athletic. (Jones) is the same way, but he has really good speed. He is big and uses leverage very well and I will have to be ready on every play to keep him away from Sam (Bradford).”

Clemmings insists he isn’t frustrated with the move from one side to the other and back again with the frequency he has been asked to make those moves. He sees his role as filling in where the coaches believe he can give the offensive line the biggest boost.

He admits that he liked his situation last year, when he started all 16 games on the right side when Phil Loadholt was lost for the year in the preseason. But he believes the adjustments he has made this year have, in their own weird way, made him a better overall football player.

“I’m just trying to be the best football player I can be, whether that means playing on the left side or the right,” Clemmings said. “I’m just trying to get better and see improvement on film every week. That’s really my focus.”


The battle between Jones and Clemmings will be one of the focal-point matchups that will be critical to Sunday’s game, but Clemmings isn’t losing any sleep worrying about it.

His goal is to simply keep Jones at bay. He doesn’t need to pancake him or dominate at the line of scrimmage – that simply doesn’t happen with Jones. His plan is to everything he can within the rules to try to negate Jones from making the big play that can create turnovers or put the quarterback in harm’s way. To accomplish that, he simply wants to keep things simple.

“I don’t see it as being a big challenge for me,” Clemmings said. “I’ve played left tackle before and my challenge will be trying to win every play. It doesn’t always work out that way, but that’s the goal. We’ve had some problems on the line with injuries and not getting our running game started like we’re used to or want to, but my challenge this week is to do everything I can just to do my job at a high level on every play. If I can do that and stick with my technique, we should be fine.”


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