SEATTLE – T.J. Clemmings was the first-team right tackle in two out of the Vikings’ three practices this week. But when the starting offense came out on the field at CenturyLink Field in the first quarter of their preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday night, Andre Smith was manning that position.
Smith struggled last Friday in the 17-16 victory over the Bengals in his first game with the Vikings, leading coach Mike Zimmer to say the position battle had not yet been settled. However, Zimmer also pointed out that Clemmings, a second-year pro who started every game as a rookie, had his own issues.
“Clemmings wasn’t going into the Hall of Fame the other day, either,” the coach said Monday. “We’ll just keep working them and figure it out.”
But Smith’s presence with the first-team offense on Thursday night reinforced the notion that he will be Zimmer’s starting right tackle for the regular season opener on Sept. 11.
Smith certainly seems to think so.
“Just keeping everybody on their toes,” Smith said this week when asked about lining up with Teddy Bridgewater and Co. for only one practice.
For the second game in a row, Smith lined up next to Joe Berger. He started again at right guard in place of the injured Brandon Fusco, who has not practiced since Aug. 9. John Sullivan got another start at center.
Veteran backup Shaun Hill started at quarterback against the Seahawks.
A Vikings spokesman said in the first quarter that it was a “coach’s decision” to not start Bridgewater, who participated in all three practices this week.
Zimmer likely will wait until the end of the preseason to pick which safety will start alongside Harrison Smith, who was a Pro Bowl alternate in 2015. Zimmer doesn’t think chemistry with Smith will be a deciding factor, though.
“Harrison can work with anybody, so that’s [no] issue for me,” Zimmer said.
Andrew Sendejo, the starting strong safety last season, started at Cincinnati last week. But free-agent addition Michael Griffin got the start next to Smith on Thursday.
For the second consecutive game, the Vikings were without injured starting middle linebacker Eric Kendricks and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd.
Also sitting out Thursday’s game due to injuries were wide receiver Jarius Wright, safety Anthony Harris, outside linebacker Brandon Watts, defensive tackle Scott Crichton, and cornerbacks Melvin White and Tre Roberson.
Cornerbacks Terence Newman and Marcus Sherels and outside linebacker Edmond Robinson, meanwhile, made their preseason debuts after sitting out the Bengals game. Newman was given the start over Trae Waynes.
But Waynes replaced the other starting cornerback, Xavier Rhodes, after he injured his hamstring on Seattle’s first drive of the game and did not return.
Defensive end Zach Moore, a Concordia (St. Paul) product, is competing with Justin Trattou, seventh-round pick Stephen Weatherly and others for one or two roster spots behind Everson Griffen, Brian Robison and Danielle Hunter.
Zimmer said this week that Moore, who suited up for one game last season after the Vikings promoted him from their practice squad, has potential but the coach would like to see the 25-year-old trust his instincts more.
“He’s a big, strong, physical guy, has a ton of ability,” Zimmer said. “Sometimes Zach does a little bit by the numbers. He could just cut it loose a little bit more. So that’s really what maybe is holding him back, but he has ability.”
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson only played two quarters Thursday. But Zimmer thought the limited exposure to one of the league’s most dangerous dual threats would be beneficial for a Vikings defense that will face three mobile quarterbacks in the first three weeks of the regular season.
The key for Vikings pass rushers against Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and Carolina’s Cam Newton will be to stay in their rush lanes instead of vacating them to aggressively pursue the QB.
“Most of the time what happens is you start peeking and you quit rushing,” Zimmer said.
“So instead of maintaining and trying to beat the guy you’re on, you’re looking around for the quarterback and then you don’t rush.”