Minnesota Vikings: T.J. Clemmings will wind up starting at RT

Oct 18, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman T.J. Clemmings (68) against the Kansas City Chiefs at TCF Bank Stadium. The Vikings defeated the Chiefs 16-10. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 18, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman T.J. Clemmings (68) against the Kansas City Chiefs at TCF Bank Stadium. The Vikings defeated the Chiefs 16-10. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports /

The Minnesota Vikings made moves at right tackle, but there’s a high probability T.J. Clemmings will end up starting there again in 2016.

When Phil Loadholt tore his Achilles in preseason last year, rookie T.J. Clemmings was forced into service way sooner than expected.

Clemmings would go on to start all sixteen games for the Vikings at right tackle, struggling mightily along the way. Clemmings was drafted with an eye toward letting him sit on the bench and develop for awhile so it should have been no surprise that when forced into the starting lineup he seemed utterly overwhelmed a lot of the time, especially in pass protection.

Going into 2016, the plan for Minnesota was to shore up their depth on the O-line and avoid another situation where a player was thrust into a position he was not prepared to handle. The Vikings brought back Loadholt on a re-structured deal and signed free agent Andre Smith, hoping that between the two veterans they could find a starting right tackle who might provide better protection for Teddy Bridgewater.

Meanwhile, the Vikings said they were moving Clemmings over to left tackle to get him some more experience at that position in hopes of developing him into a valuable swing player.

As we learned last year when Loadholt went down and Clemmings came in, plans sometimes don’t work out the way teams expect.

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Here we are a few days removed from minicamp and looking ahead to training camp, and it seems we are headed inexorably toward a repeat of last season’s scenario. If you asked me to wager right now, I’d put my money on Clemmings being the starting right tackle when the season opens in Tennessee on September 11.

The first ominous sign for me was when the Vikings put Phil Loadholt in with the first team in OTAs. Clearly, coaches wanted to get him as many early reps as possible in order to evaluate whether he can still move after suffering season-ending injuries two years in a row.

Loadholt was never the most fleet-footed tackle to begin with, and tearing his Achilles and missing an entire season likely did not help him become more nimble when trying to handle speed rushers.

We heard nothing but positive reports on Loadholt but there’s still reason to be very skeptical that he ultimately will prove fit to start and remain healthy. There was a reason Minnesota refused to bring him back until his contract was re-worked. At this point, they are basically taking a flier on Loadholt.

The second ominous sign for me was the news that Andre Smith was forced to leave a minicamp practice early with an “undisclosed injury.” Smith is no spring-chicken at 29 and entering his eighth year in the NFL. Last year in Cincinnati, his production tailed off markedly and he was allowed to hit the market.

The argument for bringing in Smith was that he is a former first-rounder who just needed a change of scenery and a different scheme in order to get back his old form. But what if Andre Smith is just breaking down?

Even before the injury, there were indications that Smith might have a bit of a struggle learning to work within an unfamiliar offensive system. Sometimes a change of scenery is good for a player, but sometimes a player is plugged into a scheme that is simply not right for his skills.

Ominous sign number three – and this may be the most troublesome sign of all – came in the form of a seemingly innocuous comment about Clemmings from Mike Zimmer in his last minicamp press conference:

Are the Vikings giving Clemmings more of a look at RT as part of their plan to develop him into a swing player, or have they read the signs and come to realize that neither Smith nor Loadholt represents a viable option at right tackle?

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Here are the Vikings’ choices as I see them today:

The former solid right tackle who has broken down physically two years in a row and has to be considered highly injury-prone.

The former high draft pick who was let go by his old team and failed to find a vigorous market in free agency.

The man who was supposed to have injury issues coming into his rookie season but somehow managed to play all sixteen games and at least is a promising talent who has every chance of improving in his second season.

At the very least you could say, T.J. Clemmings picked up valuable experience through his rookie-year trial-by-fire, and that experience will serve him well down the road.

Or maybe the Vikings will need to tap that experience this year by giving up on Plan A and Plan B and falling back on Plan C, starting Clemmings at right tackle again.

Don’t be shocked if Plan C ends up going into effect, and then that whole offseason narrative about the Vikings shoring up their right tackle situation goes out the window.