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Rhett Ellison calls recovery from torn patellar tendon 'hardest time in my career'

Things were breaking around Rhett Ellison.

First, it was the patellar tendon in his right knee during the Vikings’ Jan. 3 division-clinching win at Green Bay. Then a week later, in the team’s first-round playoff game, it was the ceremonial horn in frigid temperatures before Ellison got a chance to be honored.

“I think it broke, the original one,” Ellison said. “But yeah, I got to blow the gjallarhorn.”

Ellison, 27, is now putting the pieces back together of his NFL career after passing his physical and returning to practice this week. He’s unsure if he’ll be able to play in Sunday’s preseason game at U.S. Bank Stadium, though his return to the practice field is a major first step. Prior to the injury, Ellison had developed into one of the Vikings’ key blocking specialists in front of both Adrian Peterson and Teddy Bridgewater.

Ellison spoke candidly about one of the toughest challenges of his career. It all started when he took a low hit against the Packers, emerging with his knee cap “floating around” and unable to straighten his right leg.

“For every 10 ACLs, there’s one patellar tendon [injury,]” Ellison said. “It’s the rare one, and it’s a lot more difficult to get back to normal just because the tendon is such a thick thing that needs to be pliable, as opposed to the ligaments that just need to be stiff. It was just terrible timing. We were one game away from getting to the play in the playoffs with the guys, and it was definitely a hard time – probably the hardest time in my career so far.

“Early on, you go through some dark days. … Your mind has never had to handle something like that, so it reverts back to the old way of how I used to think. ‘Because I can’t do this, then I’m that.’ It’s just black and white. So it wasn’t until I had to change the way I looked at things that kind of got me out of that depression.”

There’s no guarantee in the NFL of a full recovery from the severe knee injury such as a torn patellar tendon. That’s why the Vikings used a sixth-round pick this spring on David Morgan, billed by the team as one of the draft’s top blocking prospects. Such tendon tears to  each knee of former Vikings receiver Greg Childs, also a fourth-round pick in 2012 with Ellison, ended his NFL career before it even started.

The operation and immediate recovery were the worst parts, Ellison said.

“I was in pain for the first two, three weeks after surgery,” Ellison said. “I couldn’t sleep, just pain 24 hours a day. It was just not a fun time.”

He questioned whether or not he’d make a full recovery, crediting his wife with being a pillar of support. They wed during Ellison’s rehab this offseason.

“I mean, if I didn’t have my wife, I think there’s no way I’d be back, ever,” Ellison said. “She got me closer to my faith, and she’s been my rock throughout this whole process. She had to drive me everywhere, I mean, I was pretty much completely dependent on her for three months. And she just, yeah, she’s been my rock.”

Constant shuffling should help T.J. Clemmings settle in as swing tackle

With Matt Kalil sidelined, T.J. Clemmings was back at left tackle yesterday. The day before that, he split time on both the left and right sides. During training camp, finding him was like playing “Where’s Waldo?”

His usage this summer hasn't exactly gone according to plan. The lack of competition for Andre Smith at right tackle after the retirement of Phil Loadholt along with the recent injury to Kalil has led to Clemmings getting a bunch of snaps with the starters at one of the tackle spots.

But that should actually prove beneficial for the 2014 fourth-round draft pick, whom the Vikings will likely slot in as their swing backup tackle this season while also attempting to ramp up his development.

"I think it's a real challenge for a young player, and I've been impressed with the way he handled it," offensive coordinator Norv Turner said after yesterday's walkthrough. "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 over an extended period of time, he continues to grow."

Clemmings started every game at right tackle as a rookie. But the Vikings thought it was a position they could upgrade, which is why they signed Smith to a one-year deal to compete with Loadholt. Coach Mike Zimmer announced that Clemmings would move to left tackle, where Kalil, guaranteed to earn $11.1 million in 2016, was locked in as a starter.

But then Loadholt got injured again in July and opted to retire. And the Vikings clearly felt that Smith needed to be pushed. So they began having Smith and Clemmings alternate days as the first-team right tackle.

Clemmings has gotten used to being asked to shuffle back and forth.

"It's pretty much been the same since [camp started]," he said. "I'm just trying to get my rhythm and get my timing and everything down."

Clemmings downplayed the challenge of changing up his stance, footwork and technique based on which side of the line he is bookending.

"It's the same thing, just a different stance and you're on a different side of the ball," said Clemmings, who played only right tackle in college. "The biggest challenge is making sure you don't make mental errors and making sure you flip the plays when you change sides. It can run together sometimes. But just remembering which side you're on [is critical]."

Clemmings said that if he is indeed the swing tackle this season, he will also have to be cognizant of which pass rushers he could see on the left side and which he could see on the right. However, he also knows in today's NFL, defenses look to exploit mismatches, like the Lions tried to do last season when they moved Ziggy Ansah to left end to attack Clemmings.

While Clemmings hasn't been the first-team right tackle since last week, the Vikings haven't yet declared Smith the starter there. But unless Kalil's injury is serious, it sure sounds like Clemmings will be the swing tackle.

"Someone has to be the swing tackle. Every team in the league has to have a guy that can play right and left," Turner said. "I think he's making progress and becoming the type of player that can play both."

12:00 PM, 8/28 (FOX)
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