An MRI confirmed Sunday that the Vikings’ initial fear, that starting right tackle Phil Loadholt tore his Achilles against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, has been realized.
Loadholt is indeed lost for the season. And the Vikings plan to turn to the young offensive linemen on their roster to fill the void, at least for now.
Loadholt was injured on the second play from scrimmage Saturday night. After a handoff to running back Jerick McKinnon, Loadholt tried to engage Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy but his left leg gave up and he tumbled to the turf.
Loadholt was able to get up on his own and he limped to the Vikings bench with head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman at his side. Shortly thereafter, he was loaded on the cart and hauled off to the locker room. Loadholt, who was visibly distraught, draped a while towel over his head to hide his emotions from the crowd.
“It’s a rough sport. Your heart aches for guys when they get injured,” center John Sullivan said. “But it’s the next-man-up mentality. That’s the way it has to be."
Preliminary tests during the game suggested that Loadholt had torn his left Achilles tendon, an injury that typically requires a recovery time of six to 12 months. When Loadholt underwent an MRI on Sunday, the exam confirmed the initial diagnosis.
After Saturday night’s game, the Vikings, assuming Loadholt was lost for the season, already were discussing their plans for identifying the proverbial next man up.
At the moment, with the season opener against the San Francisco 49ers still four weeks away, the Vikings are considering only the linemen already on their roster.
Rookie offensive tackle T.J. Clemmings, the fourth-round draft pick who filled in for Loadholt against the Buccaneers and did a serviceable job, will get the first crack at right tackle in Monday’s practice, coach Mike Zimmer said after the game.
“We draft these guys to get in here and play,” Zimmer said.
The Vikings also drafted linemen Tyrus Thompson and Austin Shepherd. Both have spent time at guard and tackle this summer. On Saturday night, Shepherd took over for Clemmings at right tackle in the second half. Thompson got third-team work at left tackle.
David Yankey and Carter Bykowski, an Eden Prairie native, also could be in the mix.
Mike Harris, who filled in for Loadholt last season after Loadholt tore a pectoral muscle in Week 12, will remain at right guard for now, Zimmer said. If Harris is moved back to tackle, where he is most comfortable, Joe Berger could be an option at guard.
“We’re going to miss Phil,” quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said. “We just have to rely on the next guy to step up.”