After being chosen by the Vikings in the fourth round of the 2015 draft out of Pittsburgh, T.J. Clemmings was thrust into a starting role at right tackle last season after an injury to Phil Loadholt. This year, the learning curve continues for Clemmings, who figures to be the top backup at both tackle spots. Clemmings chatted about his evolution this week with the Star Tribune’s Michael Rand.
Q You’ve been flipping back and forth between left and right tackle in camp. How has that been going so far?
A I think it’s been fine. There are just some things I need to tune up techniquewise on both sides and keep working at it all year long.
Q What’s the difference on playing one side or the other, aside from the obvious that one’s left and one’s right?
A There are different styles of rushers from the left side to the right side, but at the end of the day the techniques remain the same. The plays remain the same. It’s just a matter of how you do it.
Q What did you learn last year getting thrown into the fire like that?
A Things move fast and you have to keep up with the pace of things. I think this game at this level is more mental than it is physical. Everybody is strong. Everybody is fast. It’s about going to the right blocking assignments and who is doing what. It’s a mental game.
Q When you hear people say something like, ‘This could be a really good Vikings team if the offensive line plays well,’ how do you take that?
A We understand what we have to do as an offensive line to make things work for our team and for our offense. So most of the time when people say that, I have to check them and see if they even understand football. Have they played? Do they know what’s going on? So I don’t pay attention to what they’re saying.
Q How do you deal with criticism — is it easy or hard to shake it off?
A It depends on who the criticism is coming from. ... From the coaches, you listen to it. From anybody outside this building, no.
Q What about [new offensive line coach] Tony Sparano — what has it been like to work under him so far?
A It’s been good. He definitely pushes us and wants to get the best out of us. He expects the best of us and holds us to a high standard. That’s what you want from a coach — an honest guy who will tell you what you’re doing wrong.
Q How hands-on is Mike Zimmer when it comes to the offensive line?
A [smiles] He comes around from time to time. He’ll watch us, and if he sees something he’ll pull you to the side. He’s done that to me a couple times to correct something or tell me what he was thinking. … He’s the head coach, and everything goes through him. You have to respect anything that comes from his mouth. Everybody does.
Q The first game at U.S. Bank Stadium is Sunday. I know it’s just a preseason game, but will it feel good to get in that building and just see what it’s like to play in there?
A Yeah, it will be pretty cool. We watched it being built in the last year or so, week by week, and now it will finally be nice to get in there, take a look around and see how cool it is.