Jim Hueber ranks with the best offensive line coaches anywhere, having worked with the Gophers from 1984 to ’91, Wisconsin from 1992 to 2005 when the Badgers established their dominance, the Vikings from 2006 to ’10 and the University of Pittsburgh from 2012 until last season.
At Pitt, Hueber got to help turn Vikings fourth-round draft pick T.J. Clemmings from a defensive end into an offensive tackle for his junior and senior seasons. Clemmings adapted so well that he was named a second-team All-America by the Football Writers Association of America and was first-team All-ACC.
Questions arose about a stress fracture in Clemmings’ foot that was discovered in the weeks leading up to the NFL draft and might have allowed the Vikings to get a first-round talent in the fourth round, but Hueber says there’s no reason to worry.
“That was really surprising when the thing came up about his foot injury,” Hueber said. “I texted him about it because he never missed any practice, never missed any games, and then as we got closer to the draft, this thing about his foot came up and I was surprised by it.
“It had to be way, way back in his career someplace, because our doctors never said anything about it, so I understand [Saturday] when he talked to people, he said it was a nonfactor. We’ll go with the company line there, because I believe it. He just was there all the time, played every game for us, never complained about anything.”
Hueber said when it comes to raw skills, Clemmings is up there with any player he has ever coached.
“He has traits that some of the better players that we’ve had over the years have had,” he said. “The biggest difference was that he hadn’t had much experience on offense.
“He was a defensive player for a couple years in high school and then his first three years at Pitt. He wasn’t having much success, and then we moved him over and it wasn’t a bed of roses his junior year. He really had a lot to learn, but boy, once he learned it, he really became a good player.”
What was it in Clemmings that allowed for the switch to offensive line to be so successful?
“I think he has a little bit of a defensive mentality,” Hueber said. “He’s not afraid to get after you, he can finish, he’s got athleticism. He has the things you would think a defensive end might have. He can move his feet, he’s strong with his hands and his upper body. He is going to be able to do the things they want him to do. He’s just going to need to keep working and progressing.”
Might need time
Hueber cautioned that Clemmings might still need time to adapt to the NFL game.
“After my experience in the NFL, I think sometimes [drafted players] have those kind of dreams [to play right away], but I’m not sure,” he said. “I think it’s all about competition and how you respond to it. I would expect him to respond to it well, but he certainly has the tools to do it.”
Did Clemmings remind Hueber of any Vikings offensive linemen he worked with in his five years here?
“Not really, he’s kind of a different body type,” he said. “He’s over 6-5, but he’s not really as big as [Phil] Loadholt weightwise. He’s probably a little bit better athlete. He’s kind of unique. He’s a guy that I think they’ll enjoy what he can do. You won’t have to worry about his innate quickness or foot speed. He will be in good shape.”
Clemmings had scholarship offers from most major college programs in the country and was recruited as a Division I basketball player as well.
“I know he had a lot of offers and … Pitt was fairly close to home for him for a football school,” Hueber said.
Hueber, currently between coaching positions, says the Vikings got a steal in Clemmings in the fourth round. Rest assured, someone could probably get a steal of a hire by picking up Hueber for a coaching position as well. Nobody has coached the offensive line better.
Oakes recovers again
Gophers pitching coach Todd Oakes is in remission after a second battle with myeloid leukemia, a blood and bone marrow cancer. Oakes is back coaching on the bench after a long recovery.
Oakes was initially diagnosed in June 2012 and returned to the team in 2013, but a recurrence of the disease before Christmas last year led to this latest battle that included a 21-day stretch in the hospital and a lot of worry for his family. Now he is back and even took the baseball team bus to Nebraska earlier this year.
Oakes recently told the Minnesota Daily, “I’ve told [Gophers players] that the last three months when I’ve felt the best was when I’ve come up and been with [them].”
• Not since the 1949 season have the Gophers had seven players go to NFL camps in the same draft class. Four were drafted: tight end Maxx Williams by Baltimore, running back David Cobb by Tennessee, safety Cedric Thompson by Miami and linebacker Damien Wilson by Dallas. Three more signed as free agents: defensive tackle Cameron Botticelli by San Diego and offensive lineman Zac Epping and receiver Isaac Fruechte with the Vikings.
• The Vikings’ first-round pick, Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes, in the Lansing State Journal talking about his ability to cover taller receivers: “I went against big receivers, too [in college]. I did OK. I adapted. I adjusted, and I’m going to go against anybody. That’s my job, and I’m going to take care of it.”
• A Los Angeles Times story described the Vikings’ drafting of Eric Kendricks, calling him one of the best linebackers to ever come out of UCLA and said he was the primary signal-caller for the defense and “often willed others to perform at a higher level.” Kendricks was projected as a late first-round pick, but the Vikings got him in the second. He comes from a great football family: His father, Marvin, was a UCLA running back and his brother, Mychal, played linebacker at California and was a second-round pick of the Eagles in 2012.
• Stephon Sharp, a 6-4 guard from Connecticut who used to attend Hopkins, has signed as a preferred walk-on with the Gophers men’s basketball team. Sharp averaged 13.8 points as a senior at Hopkins. Last year, he told gopherhole.com he was also considering Hampton (where his dad is an assistant), Hofstra and a preferred walk-on spot with Wisconsin.
• South Alabama is looking to replace its starting quarterback, Brandon Bridge, so former Gophers and Rutgers quarterback Philip Nelson is looking to restart his college career there. He has two years of eligibility remaining and can play right away. The Newark, N.J.-based Star-Ledger reported that a person familiar with Nelson’s situation said Georgia and Ole Miss also showed interest in him last fall but moved on as Nelson’s legal process over his involvement in a fight in May 2014 dragged out.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. email@example.com