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NFL: Vikings try to retool offensive line

By Chris TomassonSt. Paul Pioneer Press EDEN PRAIRIE -- Injured Vikings tackle Phil Loadholt returned to Winter Park on Thursday, two days after surgery to repair a torn left Achilles' tendon. Teammates gathered around him for hugs. Soon, though,...

By Chris Tomasson
St. Paul Pioneer Press
EDEN PRAIRIE - Injured Vikings tackle Phil Loadholt returned to Winter Park on Thursday, two days after surgery to repair a torn left Achilles’ tendon. Teammates gathered around him for hugs.
Soon, though, it was time to get back to practice. The Vikings have plenty of work to do, especially when it comes to retooling their offensive line.
Loadholt wasn’t the only offensive tackle lost for the season during last week’s 26-16 exhibition victory over Tampa Bay. Reserve Carter Bykowski tore his pectoral muscle, the fifth Minnesota player in the past two seasons to suffer such an injury.
Suddenly, there’s not a lot of depth at tackle after Matt Kalil, the starter on the left side, and rookie T.J. Clemmings, who likely will replace Loadholt on the right side. Among those battling for playing time are David Yankey, who was a guard last season as a rookie, and rookies Tyrus Thompson and Austin Shepherd.
“(We’re looking for) a guy who can play both sides, so we can dress one (fewer player) on game day,” Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer said.
Since Yankey didn’t play in a single game last season, the player in that role likely never will have appeared before in an NFL regular-season game. Consider also the inexperience the Vikings now have on the right side of the line.
Not only is Clemmings a rookie, but projected starting right guard Mike Harris has played one game at guard since he entered high school. Still, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater hardly is worried.
“Those guys are showing flashes,” Bridgewater said of the young linemen. “I know one thing: Their work ethic is off the charts.”
Bykowski, who is from Eden Prairie, could have provided the Vikings with a bit more experience. Although he’s never gotten into a regular-season game, he has been with San Francisco and Minnesota since 2013 and was having a very good training camp.
Bykowski is the latest Vikings player to have a pectoral injury. Guard Brandon Fusco and Loadholt suffered season-ending tears last year, Fusco in the third game and Loadholt in the 11th. Defensive end Brian Robison had a pectoral injury in May but has recovered, and cornerback Josh Robinson remains on the physically unable to perform list with a partial tear suffered in June.
Zimmer said the Vikings have been looking into the nature of the injury, and he offered an update Thursday.
“I found out a lot,” Zimmer said. “It’s a combination of things, really. It’s dehydrated muscles, it’s getting in the position, sometimes it’s over-strengthening, sometimes it’s fatigue. Still, we’re calling around to every expert we can find and keep digging.”
Loadholt’s injury last season cost him the final five games. Zimmer said Loadholt was really down after getting hurt Saturday but that his spirits have improved.
“He told me he doesn’t want to just not be around the guys, not be around the facility; (he) wants to help any way he can,” Zimmer said. “He obviously was devastated when it happened, but I think he’s starting to understand that now he’s got to get back. I told him he will be one of many guys that have had Achilles (tears) that have come back that I’ve had before.”
Loadholt arrived at Winter Park on a medical scooter Thursday, with his left foot in a cast and propped up. He smiled while teammates came up to greet him.
“Definitely good to see Big Phil back around the facility,” Bridgewater said. “He’s going to be missed a lot this year and his presence is felt. The minute he arrived here at the walkthrough, everyone sprinted off the field, all heads turned and looked at him. It speaks a lot and says a lot about him as a person and as a teammate.”
The Pioneer PRESS is a media partner of Forum News Service.

Related Topics: FOOTBALL
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