Can you spot T.J. Clemmings at right guard?
Today’s big Vikings news, courtesy of CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora, isn’t really news at all; Adrian Peterson has contemplated retirement. The disgruntled running back, who continues to dig in on the “trade me” stance, has reportedly considered such a move since landing on the Commissioner’s exempt list last year.
Surprising? No. Confusing? Yes — why retire at the height of your career, surrounded by the most talent in years, and set to make almost $13 million? Hollow threats, in my opinion. General manager Rick Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer drew the line in the sand months ago, and they’ll remain behind it until Peterson returns. The only question remaining is; when?
Let’s forget about Adrian Peterson for a second, though, as many fans have already done just that. His positioning, his refusal to participate in OTAs, and his parrot Ben Dogra are distractions from what makes football so exciting: football! And earlier today, purple diehards around the country got their first taste when the Vikings took the field on a rainy, wet day in Eden Prairie.
This afternoon’s activities marked the start of Phase 3 of the team’s offseason workout program. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater spent the first OTA syncing up with his pass catchers and rookies tried their best to adjust to the speed of an NFL practice. One in particular, fourth-round pick T.J. Clemmings, enjoyed reps with the first-team offense. We won’t know how specific players performed until tomorrow, when media members are given access to the second OTA, but it’s an encouraging sign to see Clemmings rotating this early.
As Arif reported earlier this month, Clemmings spent all of rookie minicamp on the right side of the offensive line, taking reps at right tackle and right guard. In a later interview with the Star Tribune’s Sid Hartman, Zimmer hinted at the team’s plans to replace left guard Charlie Johnson and shuffle the group up front:
“We are looking at a few guys right now,” he said. “Obviously [veteran] Joe Berger has a chance to fit in with the mix. We have actually been looking at Brandon Fusco moving over to left guard and T.J. Clemmings playing right guard. Also the kid [tackle] Carter Bykowski] that we took off of San Francisco’s practice squad has looked good as well.”
Fusco started 31 of 32 games at right guard from 2012-2013, but landed on Injured Reserve last season after tearing his pectoral muscle early in the year. The Vikings made a hefty commitment to Fusco last September, offering the fifth-year guard a five-year, $25 million contract extension. A move to left guard is a clear indicator of their trust in Fusco, and a sign that David Yankey isn’t quite ready to take the starting reigns.
However, the move may be a play to add some consistency to Teddy Bridgewater’s bind side — left tackle Matt Kalil was a sieve last season, and the leaky play of the now-departed Charlie Johnson only exaggerated Kalil’s struggles. Fusco has been the Vikings’ most consistent linemen in recent years, and his presence next to Kalil may benefit the line as a whole.
If Fusco were to slide to left guard, he’d leave a void on the opposite side of the line. If I were a betting man, I’d project either Joe Berger or T.J. Clemmings to fill that hole. Berger, who signed a two-year, $2.1 contract extension in March, has spent the majority of his career as a backup in Minnesota. When Fusco went down last season, Berger seized the opportunity to start and performed relatively well in 9 games at right guard. At 32-years-old, Berger may be better served as a “swing” player, able to fill in at any of the interior offensive line spots in the face of injury.
My money is on Clemmings, who many draft analysts labeled a “steal” in the fourth-round. Clemmings suffered a dramatic fall in the face of a foot injury, but has openly stated he feels no side effects or lingering pain. Although Clemmings played right tackle at Pittsburgh, he’s green enough and raw enough to make a move inside. As a former basketball player, he’s nimble for his size and moves his feet well, but lacks the technique to succeed immediately on the outside.
With Phil Loadholt returning from a torn pectoral muscle, Clemmings will have a slim chance at competing at right tackle. He provided the Vikings tremendous value in the draft, and if Spielman wants to take advantage of that value, he needs to do so immediately. Coaches and organizations find ways to get their best players on the field, and with training camp under his belt, Clemmings has the potential to become one of those players.
This week’s question, then, ignores Adrian Peterson. Today, we’re going to focus on the men who helped make him so successful — the offensive line:
Who will start at right guard in 2015?