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."