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Loadholt, Sullivan Striving to Return in 2016

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. –While Vikings General Rick Spielman is working hard at Winter Park, planning for the offseason road ahead, center John Sullivan and right tackle Phil Loadholt are walking the road to recovery.

Spielman met with reporters Thursday for a pre-NFL Scouting Combine session with reporters and was asked to provide an update on the veteran offensive linemen.

"Sully is down there right now, so we'll see how it progresses," Spielman said.

Loadholt provided an update on his rehab process earlier this month.

Spielman said Sullivan and Loadholt are currently working hard to get back on the field as soon as possible.

"We'll see how it goes," Spielman said. "We're just monitoring their rehab. I won't put a timeframe on them for when or when not. They had significant injuries. I know they're working extremely hard to get back, but I'll wait."

Despite the absence of Sullivan and Loadholt, who have combined to play 198 games for Minnesota, the Vikings were able to start the same five linemen for all 16 games of the 2015 season and the Wild Card game. Spielman addressed the 2015 unit and those players who worked to fill the cleats of Sullivan and Loadholt.

"I thought Joe Berger stepped in and played very well even though we lost Sullivan," Spielman said.

Rookie T.J. Clemmings, whom the Vikings selected 110th overall in the 2015 NFL Draft, was thrown into the fire to start at right tackle when Loadholt suffered an Achilles injury. Spielman said he saw the type of progress from Clemmings he was looking for throughout the season.

"T.J. had his ups and downs as a rookie," Spielman said. "But we have high expectations for him going forward."

As a part of offseason meetings, Spielman said it's important for the Vikings scouting and coaching staff to take a step back and assess players at every position in order to accurately determine their potential moving forward.

The Vikings personnel department and coaching staff met shortly after the season to assess the roster and evaluate unrestricted free agents on other teams. This week, the scouting department is focusing on the evaluation of prospects in advance of next week's NFL Scouting Combine.

"These meetings are very up front and honest," Spielman said. "I have to be honest with myself; coaches have to be honest; scouts have to be honest. 'This guy is good enough or he's not good enough.' Or, 'He didn't play well, but can he play well again?' Or, 'He's hit the wall, and he's done, and we have to move on.' "

When asked directly about left tackle Matt Kalil, Spielman emphasized the importance of reliability. Kalil, who will be entering his fifth season with the Vikings, struggled through injuries in 2014 before bouncing back in 2015. Kalil has started all 64 regular season games of his career.

"Matt's been up and down," Spielman said during Thursday's session. "There's nothing from the physical standpoint that I think he can't do. I mean, I think he can still be a solid left tackle in this league. He just has to continue to work on his consistency, which, he was much more consistent this year than he was last year."

Another element to the Vikings offseason is the hiring of Tony Sparano as offensive line coach. He will join returning offensive line assistant Hank Fraley in leading the unit this season.

Spielman said Sparano quickly provided feedback after his hiring in January. He said the Vikings will look to bolster competition and depth at every position.

"Going through the UFA meetings, Tony had a very clear picture of the type of offensive linemen he's looking for and has had success with through his career," Spielman said. "So we have a very clear picture of the traits that he's looking for."

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