Tuesday, September 1, 2015

phil loadholt

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Image courtesy of Vikings.com

At exactly 10:30 this morning — head coach Mike Zimmer runs a tight ship — injured Minnesota Vikings Brian Robison, Captain Munnerlyn, and Phil Loadholt will return to practice, taking part in the team’s first walkthrough since June’s minicamp activities. Their recoveries from a handful of injuries are a positive sign as the Vikings begin training camp in Mankato, Minnesota.

During his press conference yesterday, Mike Zimmer addressed the status of Robinson, who strained his pectoral muscle in May while working out at Winter Park. At the time of his injury, Robison told Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press that he’d be “OK”, but fans still worried about the eight-year veteran. At 32-years-old, many have speculated if Robison can continue to be productive on the field, especially after a disappointing 2014 season on it. When asked if Robison will be ready, Zimmer kept it short and sweet, as only Zimmer can:

“I do.”

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Image courtesy of Vikings.com

In an ESPN article posted Monday, NFL senior writer John Clayton said the Vikings are in the running for a 2015 playoff team.

In the article, Clayton cites a few factors in his analysis. Teddy Bridgewater certainly shoulders much of the responsibility moving forwardClayton did offer praise for Bridgewater’s rookie seasonbut it’s more than just the quarterback at this point…

It’s adding Adrian Peterson back into the equation and seeing how much better Peterson makes Bridgewater. Clayton reminded us of the following:

Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton were success stories early in their careers because of their talent — and because they had the benefit of running attacks that typically produced 130 yards or more. (Yes, you can pile up added rushing yardage late in wins, but all three of these teams built around the run.) Look what Peterson did for Christian Ponder. In 2012, Peterson rushed for 2,097 yards coming off knee surgery. Ponder averaged 23.7 points per game and the Vikings made the playoffs. After four years, Minnesota determined Ponder wasn’t good enough and moved on to Bridgewater.

I like Clayton’s take on this. Granted, the team needs both AP and TB to play well; there’s no doubt about that. But individually, neither player is as strong as the way they can feed off each other. Bridgewater had a solid debut season (averaging 22.1 points per game) without Peterson on the field, and having the star RB back in the lineup will take a bit of the pressure off Bridgewater’s shoulders.

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Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Go back and watch any Vikings game from 2014. What did you see? A promising rookie quarterback who struggled early and blossomed late in the year? A defensive end who thrived as a pass rusher and run stopper? A safety who asserted himself as one of the league’s best?

You probably saw all three, but nothing was more apparent than the struggles of the offensive line. Right tackle Phil Loadholt tore his pectoral muscle early in the year, landing on Injured Reserve and missing almost the entire season. Left guard Charlie Johnson, who was released this offseason, struggled in both the run game and in pass protection. However, success is almost impossible when lined up next to a player like 2014 Matt Kalil:

Hopefully, Vikings fans won’t have to watch more of this in the coming season. In a recent interview with the Star Tribune’s Sid Hartman, Mike Zimmer explored the idea of shifting the team’s offensive line in 2015 and replacing Johnson with one of three in-house options:

“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.”

In the same interview, Zimmer shared that Matt Kalil “feels great” and will play with “a chip on his shoulder” in 2015. After the team picked up his fifth-year option, Kalil will need to bounce back from a horrendous 2014 campaign. With two healthy knees, he may have a chance to do just that. On the other side of the line, fourth-round pick Clemmings may see time at right guard; he practiced primarily on the right side, at both guard and tackle, during rookie minicamp.

After the jump, a look at the latest developments around the NFC North:

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Offensive linemen, in my experience, are some of the hardest position to predict when it comes to which round or day they will be drafted. Look no further than Vikings lineman Antonio Richardson for an example of how different projections can be from reality.

Wisconsin offensive tackle Rob Havenstein could potentially go as high as the third round, especially if Arif Hasan’s consensus Big Board is any indication (he’s #100), but I also see him as a guy that potentially falls well into Day Three.

Most people are plenty familiar with Wisconsin’s dominant run game last season, with Melvin Gordon stealing all of the hype and accolades as the benefiting running back. Gordon is certainly deserving of his status among the best backs in this year’s class, but the offensive line that paved his way every Saturday should not be ignored, including Havenstein.

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The Vikings were hoping some of the dings and dents suffered on Sunday would heal quickly enough to not impact Thursday night’s matchup against Washington.  It is looking like that is just wishful thinking.

The Vikings have already ruled out defensive backs Chris Cook and Jamarca Sanford.  Defensive tackle Fred Evans has also been ruled out while starter LeTroy Guion is listed as doubtful, giving way for Chase Baker to see extensive action.  Xavier Rhodes is listed as probable and will likely start at cornerback across from Josh Robinson, with Mistral Raymond and Robert Blanton filling in for Raymond at safety.

On offense, Christian Ponder will have the odds even more stacked against him as he will likely be missing two starters on the offensive line, not to mention tight end Kyle Rudolph.  Phil Loadholt has already been ruled out and J’Marcus Webb will be filling in at right tackle.  Charlie Johnson is listed as doubtful, so Joe Berger is likely to get the start in his place.  Tight end Rhett Ellison is listed as questionable with an ankle injury that has caused him to miss time and backup running back Matt Asiata will miss another game while dealing with the tragic death of his father.

The Indigenous People of the Potomac Region, however, have only one rookie backup running back (Chris Thompson) listed as questionable.  Five others are on their injury report, but they are all listed as probable.

In short, the Vikings are hurting far worse than the Redskins as we forge into the second half of a very, very long 2013 season.

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