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Loadholt Seizing His Opportunity

Rookie offensive tackle already looks comfortable with the Vikings’ first team

Offensive Tackle Phil Loadholt looks confident and ready to take over as the starting right tackle of the Minnesota Vikings, leaving last year’s starter Ryan Cook in his wake.

The Vikings’ second-round pick in the April draft, Loadholt was expected to compete with Ryan Cook for the starting job at right tackle in training camp. But two weeks into camp, Loadholt has taken the overwhelming majority of snaps with the first team. It’s clear the job is his to lose.

“I know right now that it means absolutely nothing,” he said. “We’ve got a long time to go before the actual first game of the year.. Even though the preseason game is right around the corner, it means absolutely nothing until I get in there and actually prove (myself).”

Loadholt has been trying to do that since the Vikings arrived in Mankato. A mammoth man at 6-feet-8 and 343 pounds, he actually looks bigger up close. However, he is intelligent enough to know his stature alone won’t guarantee success. That’s why he takes film study so seriously.

“Every day is a learning day for him, but he doesn’t make the same mistake twice,” offensive line coach Pat Morris said.

Said Loadholt: “I maybe write down one or two things that I did last practice that I’m not going to do this time. I might do something else (wrong), but I’m not going to do that.” So far, the results are a pleasantry that the Vikings expected when they made him the 54th selection of the 2009 draft.

He is a player the team targeted, but didn’t really expect to be available by the time they made their selection in round two.

Cook, who is working at guard, center and tackle, struggled as the starter last season and at one point was replaced by Artis Hicks..

Loadholt played two seasons at Oklahoma after transferring from Garden City (Kan.) Community College. He started 27 games for the Sooners, who went 23-5 and won consecutive Big 12 titles. He gave up only two sacks and one quarterback pressure on 438 pass plays last season while playing left tackle.

Most NFL scouts agree Loadholt is best suited to play the right side. Assuming he is the starter, the Vikings will have two of the biggest tackles in the NFL. Bryant McKinnie also is 6-8 and is listed at 335 pounds. This is to Loadholt’s advantage because McKinnie understands exactly what his new teammate is experiencing.

“We pretty much talk every day,” McKinnie said. “If I see something, I let him know what he can do to correct it. Or if he has a question, he’ll come ask me and I’ll try to give my advice.

McKinnie has worked with Loadholt on getting him to bend at his knees instead of at his waist. That will help him with his leverage in run blocking.

“That’s a big issue with me, just like he told me it was for him when he first came out,” Loadholt said. “It’s just something that you have to work on.”

Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said he is pleased with what he has seen from Loadholt.

“He’s worked hard and he stays after it and does extra,” Bevell said. “I see him in the film room by himself. He asks a lot of questions. He wants to do it the right way. He gets upset with himself when he makes a mistake or when he doesn’t feel like he’s done his job. I like that out of those kind of guys.”

And Bevell surely must like the mind-set Loadholt takes when asked how hard he is on himself.

“I haven’t had a good day yet,” Loadholt said. “So in my mind I just have a lot to work on and I’m looking forward to continuing to do that.”

He’s not afraid to ask for help. That, along with his size, physical strength and commitment to excellence that makes Loadholt an early favorite of this columnist.

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