I’m taking a new approach to some write-ups - going for the shorter, quick-hitter on occasion rather than the longer pieces I usually write- but will still do too occasionally. This way there is more content and more opportunity for focused conversations. So, rather than a long piece on all camp notes and observations so far, I’m gonna go with a bunch of shorter pieces more focused on a player or narrow topic.
Starting in no particular order, let’s take a quick look at TJ Clemmings.
As you know, Clemmings was (not surprisingly) moved to left tackle this off-season after turning in a not-so-great rookie campaign at right tackle last year. Clemmings had only 2 years playing offensive line in college, and was seen as a solid, if in need of development, tackle prospect when the Vikings drafted him in the 4th round last year.
Given that, it wasn’t surprising that Clemmings struggled last year when suddenly given the starting right-tackle role after Phil Loadholt went down to injury. Clemmings had played right-tackle for two years at Pitt, but his skill set and measurables are much more oriented to the left-tackle position, as he has proto-type athleticism, quick-feet, and build to become a starter there if he can continue to develop his technique and skill set.
While Coach Zimmer is, as he put it, “not willing to evaluate guys in shorts and underwear”, it seems fairly clear that Clemmings is being slotted to the swing-tackle role, and challenger/backup to Matt Kalil at left-tackle.
Zimmer was asked about Clemmings’ transition to left-tackle at a recent press conference during mini-camp:
I think he’s doing very well. I think TJ has a chance to be a good football player. You know, I’m not too sure the left side is where he plays, you know we may look at him some more at the right side, I think he’s improved a lot this spring, he works real hard, is a heavy-handed guy, can punch good, so, those are all good attributes.
Zimmer was also asked about Clemmings playing guard again, as he had some reps at guard early last year in training camp:
I doubt it. He’d probably be a tackle all the time.
While those quotes don’t seem like all that much on the face of them, I’ve noticed that the highest praise Mike Zimmer will give to a younger player is that, “he has a chance to be a good football player.” He said that early on with Anthony Barr, lately with Xavier Rhodes, and also I believe about Danielle Hunter and Laquon Treadwell.
I equate that to meaning the player could be a quality starter or better. The fact that he described Clemmings that way gives a little insight into his regard for Clemmings, and his role going forward.
Mike Zimmer commented once or twice during his recent press conferences that new Offensive Line coach Tony Sparano is really working the offensive linemen so far in off-season camp- presumably more than former OL Coach Jeff Davidson did- and that he likes it, and is seeing improvement.
Matt Vensel, in his 10 takeaways from spring practices and mini-camp, wrote this about the offensive line competition:
NFL teams are not permitted to practice in pads during the spring, so it is dangerous to draw any conclusions about offensive line play. But I can say this: It sounds like the open competition along the offensive line and the addition of Tony Sparano as their position coach has lit a fire under any of the returning offensive linemen who needed one to be lit. The battles there during training camp are going to be fascinating, particularly at center and right tackle. John Sullivan and Joe Berger took turns with the first-team offense at center and it seems like there was a pretty even split between right tackles Andre Smith and Phil Loadholt, too.
While those battles may be interesting (I expect Sullivan and Loadholt to win them if they’re healthy), right guard and even left-tackle could also be very interesting competitions, too. Mike Harris did very well his first year at right guard, and will likely give Brandon Fusco all he wants in competition for that job.
Keep in mind also that Matt Kalil did not have a particularly strong training camp last year, and if he struggles again this year, I’m not sure how tied Sparano will be to keeping him in the starting job, despite his $11m guaranteed salary. We’ll see. But expect battles at every position except left guard, where Alex Boone will be the starter barring injury.