It’s been a long time coming for Phil Loadholt, but the massive offensive tackle is finally beginning to fulfill the promise he showed when the Vikings drafted him in the second round out of Oklahoma.
Thrown into the fray as a rookie in 2009, Loadholt held his own, helping protect Brett Favre on his way to one of his best statistical years. Things went backward in 2010 however, not just for Loadholt but the entire offensive line. 2011 looked like it would be a much better campaign for Loadholt, especially after he showed up in camp in the best shape of his life, but early struggles had many observers whispering that maybe his potential would never be realized. False starts and glaring blow-bys plagued the third-year man, leading some to speculate that his starting job might be in jeopardy.
Then Sunday’s Arizona game happened. Loadholt looked dominating in his run blocking for Adrian Peterson, and performed better than usual in pass protection. The uber-wonks at Pro Football Focus gave Loadholt the highest grade of his career saying, “[Loadholt] yielded only one pressure to [Clark] Haggans late in the second quarter and had the measure of Dockett all day in the running game. Whilst he never had that one special highlight reel play, the consistency with which he was able to seal and control Dockett was impressive.”
One good game does not a career make, but if Loadholt can build on what he accomplished Sunday against some pretty good defensive linemen, his future should be bright. Maybe down the road the Vikings will be able to shift Loadholt to the left tackle spot where the undersized Charlie Johnson has proven to be a major liability.
Loadholt wasn’t the only young Viking to shine in Sunday’s win. There was also Jamarca Sanford, who built upon his reputation as a hard-hitting run defender by picking off two balls late in the fourth quarter to help seal the win. For the past two years Sanford has been steadily developing while his rival Tyrell Johnson has flatlined. So far this season Johnson has been used to spell Sanford during passing situations but after Sanford’s performance Sunday there is no longer any reason for Leslie Frazier to continue platooning the two safeties. The job should now belong to Sanford full-time.
And let’s not forget about Sanford’s fellow defensive back Chris Cook. After an injury-plagued 2010, Cook is putting together a solid sophomore season. The first hint of a break-out came a few weeks ago against Detroit when he held his own against Calvin Johnson, and on Sunday Cook once again faced a top 5 receiver, Larry Fitzgerald, and stood his ground. Cook’s improvement has been so noticeable that, over the last three games, we’ve seen more deep throws against Cedric Griffin, who sadly has not been holding up. Look for more teams to pick on the fading Griffin and stay away from the younger, bigger and more-agile Cook.