The Vikings have some big shoes to fill.
It was confirmed by Vikings Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner on Monday that RT Phil Loadholt did indeed tear his Achilles tendon and will require surgery to repair it. Turner was at the helm of Vikings practice and spoke with reporters as head coach Mike Zimmer attended funeral services for his father.
With Loadholt on the mend, the Vikings will look for a new starter at his position and it appears rookie fourth-rounder TJ Clemmings will get the first crack at it.
At 6-8, 345 pounds, Loadholt was a mammoth of a RT capable of consistently moving his man off the line of scrimmage to help pave the way for the Vikings running game. Loadholt has been the Vikings regular starter at the positions since his rookie season in 2009. According to Turner, though, Clemmings, who measures in at 6-5, 309 pounds, shouldn't only be focusing on physical ability as he looks to pick up where Loadholt left off. Communication and preparation are important, too.
"Well, the challenges to me end up being, as I always talk to him about, he's got to learn how to manage a game, manage playing the position and he's got to get to where he and Mike Harris are communicating at a high level," Turner said. "Then he's got to understand the preparation that you have to have to play in this League and then understand that each week he's going to go against probably the best player he's played against to this point in his career."
Clemmings played 32 snaps in replacing Loadholt on Saturday night and he worked well with Harris on the right side, even picking up a few defensive line stunts the Buccaneers attempted. His ability to produce a solid showing on such short notice is a testament to the kind of camp he's had to this point.
"I thought T.J. Clemmings [has improved] since he got here," Turner said. "He is having an outstanding camp. He played well in the Hall of Fame Game. He gets thrown into action earlier in the game than he thought. I thought he played extremely well. He's a young player with a bright future and he's going to have to step it up.
"I think he's improved a great deal and we spend a lot of extra time on pass protection. I think that's where he's really improved. He's an explosive player, he's got good feet, he uses his hands well. He's inexperienced, that's the one thing you'd say where he's got to catch up."
As for Clemmings, he says he'll continue to lead on Loadholt, just as he has since he was drafted by the Vikings.
"Phil has been a great help to me since I've been here, since day one," Clemmings said. "He said, 'Sit next to me, do what I do, stay around with me.' Him and a lot of the older vets have helped me and guided me on what to do and how to be a pro, so I just hope and pray that his recovery is speedy and he can get back on the field."
IN LINE TO MAKE THE TEAM?: Though stopping short of predicting he'd make the team and deferring that decision to the head coach, Turner did have positive things to say about FB Zach Line.
"Zach Line is a very good football player," the Turner said. "He's a very versatile football player, he can play fullback, he can play halfback, he can play on special teams. He's having an outstanding training camp, so I see him as a valuable part of our offense."
Line was dealing with an injury early in camp but was able to play in Saturday's win over Tampa Bay. He scored the game's first touchdown, plunging in from one yard with 4:07 to play in the 1st quarter to give the Vikings a 10-0 lead.
Line is joined by undrafted rookie Blake Renaud as the only listed FBs on the Vikings roster.
EXUM TAKES PRIDE IN THE 'BIG PLAY':Two games in and S Antone Exum has had his hand in two turnovers. That's a good way to make a good impression when you're in the midst of a position battle.
In college, I was able to get my hands on a lot of balls," Exum said. "Fortunately, I had some takeaways and things of that nature. I pride myself on trying to make the big play, trying to change the game around and set the offense up to put points on the board. I just try to get my hands on the ball and afterwards try to return it for as many yards as I can."
In last week's Hall of Fame game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Canton, Exum picked up an Audie Cole-forced fumble and returned it 32 yards. On Saturday night against the Buccaneers and rookie QB Jameis Winston, Exum came across the field and intercepted a pass, then returned it 34 yards.
The second-year safety broke down the interception while meeting with reporters on Monday morning.
"I just read him the whole time," Exum said. "He wasn't really looking off that much at the beginning of the game. Where he was looking was where he was throwing. He tried to kind of fit it in there to his wide receiver and he kind of overthrew it a little bit and I was right there."
Exum also appears to be "right there" in the battle for a starting safety spot. Robert Blanton, the incumbent starter, is listed first on the depth chart and has played well, but plays like those Exum made the past two weeks could make the race interesting.
"I've been doing okay, I've been doing a solid job," Exum said. "There's a lot of room for improvement. I'm fortunate to have made a couple big plays the past couple games to help the team out. But like I said, a lot of room for improvement. I can get better at some things."
Exum's coach agreed in giving an assessment after Saturday night's game.
"He's active. He made a nice play on the interception," Zimmer explained. "He got down in there one time on a run…he was in good position but he didn't finish the tackle. Those are things he's going to have to improve on. Safeties have to be able to tackle. He's a very good athlete and we just got to get him disciplined."
THIS WEEK:The Vikings held practiced on Monday and will do so each afternoon through Thursday before they begin final preparations on Friday for their preseason game against the Oakland Raiders on the campus of the University of Minnesota on Saturday evening.