Thursday, September 29, 2016

returning right tackle Phil Loadholt
Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Fans of the Minnesota Vikings collectively gasped when Phil Loadholt tore his achilles against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the preseason. Considered one of the team’s best offensive linemen, Loadholt has been an integral piece in the success of the offense, especially as a run blocker for Adrian Peterson.

His loss opened the door for right tackle T.J. Clemmings, whose rookie season was nothing short of a struggle. The fourth-round pick was a liability in pass protection, and offensive coordinator Norv Turner often shifted tight end and running back protection his way. With the news that Loadholt’s recovery is on track and he’ll be ready for offseason workouts, the Vikings will have to make a tough choice when deciding who starts at right tackle next year.

With a lengthy injury history, the 30 year-old Loadholt is a potential risk if the Vikings do bring him back next season. His cap number will be $7.75 million in 2016, and his status for training camp is still up in the air. If Loadholt does recover and wants to continue playing football, general manager Rick Spielman has four legitimate options:

  1. Sign Loadholt to a restructured deal this offseason
  2. Trade Loadholt to a right tackle-needy team this offseason
  3. Release Loadholt and move forward with T.J. Clemmings
  4. Retain Loadholt without restructuring his current contract

Seeing as Loadholt’s situation will be a topic of discussion among Vikings fans, I decided to ask the VT Team a right tackle-centric question this week: What should the Vikings do with Phil Loadholt next season?

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Will the Cincinnati-Minnesota pipeline continue for Mike Zimmer?

George Iloka a top free agent safety for the Vikings
Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Building an NFL defense is a lot like putting together an intricate puzzle. Some pieces fit perfectly within the frame, like Anthony Barr and Harrison Smith in Minnesota. Others, unfortunately, are square pegs in a round hole. They have a place somewhere, but not with the Minnesota Vikings.

For Mike Zimmer, the picture is nearly complete — a top-five unit in 2015 has a chance to become even more dominant next season. But one of those pieces has long been a blemish in what should be Mike Zimmer’s masterpiece — strong safety.

From Andrew Sendejo to Robert Blanton, and even Terence Newman, no one player has been a perfect fit beside Smith in the secondary. Despite the revolving door at the position, general manager Rick Spielman does have options. The draft is chock full of potential contributors, and players like Anthony Harris will continue to develop, but the safest path to the perfect puzzle may begin in March.

That’s when free agency opens. And that’s when safeties like Eric Berry, Reggie Nelson, and Eric Weddle will hit the open market. They’re fine pieces to add to the puzzle, but they’re not the right piece for Zimmer’s defense. Enter George Iloka, current Cincinnati Bengals strong safety and soon-to-be free agent target.

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Xavier Rhodes shutdown corner
Photo courtesy of Vikings.com

When the 2014 season came to a close, Xavier Rhodes looked poised for stardom. After an up-and-down rookie campaign—par for the course for NFL defensive backs, even first round picks—Rhodes took a dramatic leap in year two, improving his coverage skills significantly and becoming known as a pass break-up machine. Pro Football Focus rated him as the NFL’s 14th-best corner that year—not Revis status, but a nice ascension for a second-year player. Fueling the narrative of a player on the rise, Rhodes had a downright dominant four-game stretch late in the season in which he allowed only seven catches and a 22.2 passer rating for opposing quarterbacks.

Rhodes blossomed under the tutelage of head coach Mike Zimmer in 2014, Zimmer’s first year at the helm for the Vikings. Zimmer is, of course, known for his defensive pedigree, and it seemed like he was quickly molding Rhodes into a complete, number one corner. The thought after Rhodes’ sophomore season was that, based on his enormous progress in year two, 2015 would be the year he developed into a legitimate shutdown corner, able to shadow the opposing team’s top receiver on a weekly basis.

That hasn’t exactly happened.

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Image Courtesy of Vikings.com

As listeners of Purple FTW! know, Andy is pretty lazy. Therefore I’ve passed the buck along and we have a new producer in the fold by the name of Daniel Paluch (@DanielPaluch). During the show we talk about what the hell a podcast producer does (I still have no idea), suss out how he did prepping for his first show, fill you guys in about the first time I met Daniel in Mankato (#BackSweat) and even talk a little Minnesota Fightin’ Vikings.

All that and other “Get My Coffee” nonsense on this edition of the Purple FTW! Podcast.

An Andy Carlson Joint

Daniel is a Vikings writer at Pro Football Spot. Hit up his stuff!

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Tyler Boyd was a consistent three-year starter for the Pittsburgh Panthers while working with three different quarterbacks since his true freshman season in 2013. Boyd set a new ACC freshman record with 85 catches for 1,174 yards, breaking Larry Fitzgerald’s record. Since then he has accounted for a career total of 3,361 yards receiving, 520 yards rushing and over 1,360 return yards on kickoffs and punt returns. Boyd is not the biggest or fastest in this class of pass catcher but he does a lot of the little things extremely well.

Tyler Boyd | Wide Receiver, Pittsburgh

Measurements

Height: 6’2
Weight: 200 lbs
Age: 21

At First Glance

First Team All-ACC and numerous ACC Receiver of the Week and Specialist of the Week honors. Football Writers All-American.

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