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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Embracing the competition, Vikings grooming Clemmings as swing tackle

By Derek Wetmore

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. – After getting thrown into the fire for 16 games as a rookie last year, T.J. Clemmings might be preparing for a new role this season.

The Vikings are grooming the second-year tackle out of Pittsburgh as a swing tackle – a backup at both tackle positions, which allows for greater roster flexibility. During minicamp Wednesday, Clemmings lined up at left tackle with the second-team offensive line (Matt Kalil’s backup). Unlike most offensive linemen, though, Clemmings didn’t get a break when his unit was done; he stuck around and switched sides of the line, practicing at right tackle with the third-team linemen.

Clemmings isn’t one to complain about the added responsibility – or the fact that the Vikings spent a lot of money this spring to upgrade their leaky offensive line, making it much more likely that he’ll start the year in a backup role, barring injuries to other players.

“I’m still getting reps. That’s a big deal,” Clemmings said Wednesday. “Every rep that I get, that’s an opportunity for me to get better.”

A swing tackle is a valuable position on a 53-man roster in the NFL. The role, which in the past has been filled by guys like Mike Harris, allows a team to carry just one backup tackle on the active roster each week, saving a precious spot to devote to other positions by effectively backing up both tackle positions with the same guy.

Last season, Clemmings was called on from Week 1 after a wave of injuries hit the Vikings offensive line, including a season-ending Achilles injury for longtime right tackle Phil Loadholt. So Clemmings got 16 starts in the regular season and one in the playoffs protecting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s right side. He had some moments that reminded observers that he was a first-year player still learning the ropes in the NFL. But the fourth-round pick wasn’t a total lost cause, and his size and strength still have the Vikings interested in his abilities.

Bot now Loadholt is healthy and back with the team for at least another year, and the Vikings wrote some checks this offseason to bolster a perceived weakness of the team a year ago – the offensive line. They signed guard Alex Boone and brought in free-agent tackle Andre Smith, who is expected to compete with Loadholt for the starting job at right tackle opposite Kalil.

That apparently isn’t a permission slip for Clemmings to take a step back and learn the ropes from the sidelines. He never got that opportunity in his rookie season, and he doesn’t sound ready in mid-June to concede that he might be looking at a backup role, at least early on, this year.

“You always have to have the mindset of competing no matter what the situation is. That’s obviously something that’s out of my control,” Clemmings said. “You have to be a competitor to play in this league. If you’re not competing, you won’t be around long.”

By his own admission, Clemmings said he thinks his understanding of the calls needs to improve from a year ago. In offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s offense – any offense, for that matter – staying true to blocking assignments is a big deal. Plus, things move a lot faster in the NFL, and unlike in college, every enemy defensive end poses a threat each week.

“T.J. has been doing good,” Turner said Clemmings’ new look at left tackle. “It’s a change for him. He gets challenged every day by our defensive front. We’ve got good players over there, so I think he’s making progress.”

Clemmings said the calls weren’t always “sticking” last year, “but this year, definitely understanding the calls, knowing what the calls are, what they mean and how they work with the offensive line, that definitely makes a big difference,” he said.

He was the 10th offensive lineman selected in last year’s NFL Draft, although some pundits believed he could have gone earlier than that if not for concerns surrounding a foot injury. That didn’t stop him from jumping in right away when he was asked to plug a king-size hole left when Loadholt went down with an Achilles injury.

“My number was called and it was time for me to go in and perform and play,” Clemmings said. “Team was depending on me, coaches were depending on me, my teammates were depending on me to get the job done. I did the best, I believe, that I could. Definitely had some bumps in the road, some learning curves and some things to learn from…I would say it was a solid start, but definitely some things to take from it and learn from it and take into this year.”

The post Embracing the competition, Vikings grooming Clemmings as swing tackle appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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