EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — T.J. Clemmings had his hands full.
The Minnesota Vikings were in Denver, facing a loud crowd and a ferocious pass rush led by outside linebacker Von Miller. The rookie right tackle, not surprisingly, struggled at times with such a difficult assignment.
“There were some times T.J. blocked him, but the times he didn’t block him, that’s what shows up,” coach Mike Zimmer said.
Miller had only one of seven sacks the Broncos had on Teddy Bridgewater, but he was in the backfield all afternoon during the 23-20 victory on Sunday over the Vikings. Clemmings, more than once, was unable to keep Miller from wreaking havoc on a passing play.
“There’s a lot of good things that he does and when he’s good, he’s good,” Zimmer said. “He’s a young guy that we’re going to have to keep grinding, with his making sure that everything is precise with him and continue to work with him some technically, but he continues to impress in some things. We’ve just got to keep going with him.”
Clemmings, who was thrust into action when stalwart Phil Loadholt tore his Achilles tendon and was lost for the season, has held his own for a raw fourth-round draft pick who was more of a basketball player in high school and started his college career at Pittsburgh on defense.
But for the Vikings to keep Bridgewater healthy, let alone give him time to throw, Clemmings will have to be a lot better over the final three quarters of the season.
This offensive line is still the biggest question mark against the Vikings this season, though there have been clear improvements since that rough season-opening loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
“I always have a lot of work to do. I’m four games in, so that’s four games for me to learn from, to move forward and to just get better,” Clemmings said. “I don’t look at how much time I’ve been playing the game. I just look at what I need to get better at, to be able to help the team and to just help myself as a player.”
No matter how the rest of his career plays out, Clemmings will probably always look back at the game in Denver as one of the building blocks, as humbling as it might have been.
“It was a good experience. We went against two of the best pass rushers in the league,” Clemmings said. “It definitely helped me to learn a few things, learn a few things about myself and how I can just become better to play guys coming up in the season.”
General manager Rick Spielman echoed Zimmer’s praise.
“You watch him on tape, and he does a lot of great things,” Spielman said. “We’re very excited, but you’re also realizing with a rookie especially on the offensive line you’re going to have to go through some growing pains with them.”