The last time Vikings rookie Ezra Cleveland played guard in a game before Sunday’s 40-23 loss to the Falcons, he was a grade-school kid starring on both sides of the ball in Spanaway, Wash.
Or maybe in high school, he said.
“I don’t think I ever played it in college,” Cleveland said Tuesday via videoconference.
“Played right tackle a little bit, but never really played guard.”
Cleveland, a left tackle at Boise State, hadn’t played in a game since his college days last fall before making his Vikings debut Sunday at a new position: right guard.
He could stay after the bye week should guards Dru Samia (wrist) and Pat Elflein (thumb) remain sidelined.
On Monday, coach Mike Zimmer said Cleveland had “some moments he’d like to have back,” between flashes of the athleticism that drew General Manager Rick Spielman into making him the 58th pick of the draft.
This spring, Spielman then declared Cleveland the left tackle of the future.
But coaches moved him to guard this summer, when he emerged after training camp as the fourth option behind Dakota Dozier, Elflein and Samia.
Offensive line coach Rick Dennison said last month that coaches are keeping open the possibility of moving Cleveland back to tackle, but for now he is the latest player rolling through the Vikings’ conveyor belt at guard, a position in a yearslong run of inconsistency and injuries. Cleveland was the 16th guard to appear in a Vikings regular-season game since Brandon Fusco and Mike Harris played every snap in 2015.
And the newest member of the offensive line wasn’t alone in poorly handling the strength of Falcons defensive linemen Grady Jarrett and Allen Bailey, among others.
Cleveland said he’s also facing the mental adjustment of memorizing an NFL playbook with new verbiage.
“Maybe the speed of everything,” Cleveland said. “Everything is kind of similar to what we did at Boise, the zone running and the open zone, and we ran some power and stuff.
“But terminology is a little different. It’s hard to throw all those words away that you learned those three or four years in college and learn new ones, but it’s all part of the job, and I’d say terminology is for sure the thing that was hard.”
He was told by coaches he’d be a swing guard his rookie season, and the 22-year-old Cleveland said he’s not trying to look at the uncertainty beyond that while taking his current position changes in stride.
When asked if he views himself as an NFL tackle, he said, “I’m not 100 percent sure.”
“I know that I like guard and tackle both the same,” he added.
“And honestly wherever the team needs me, I’ll play and try to do my best.”