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Vikings’ Phil Loadholt confident about full recovery

MINNEAPOLIS -- When the Vikings asked tackle Phil Loadholt earlier this year to take a pay cut, he didn't flinch. Loadholt was due to make $6 million in 2016, the final year of his contract. After missing all of 2015 with a torn Achilles tendon, ...

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Minnesota tackle Phil Loadholt runs out of the tunnel before the start of the Vikings preseason game against Buccaneers at TCF Bank Stadium on Aug. 15, 2015. (Photo by John Autey / St. Paul Pioneer Press)

MINNEAPOLIS -- When the Vikings asked tackle Phil Loadholt earlier this year to take a pay cut, he didn’t flinch.

Loadholt was due to make $6 million in 2016, the final year of his contract. After missing all of 2015 with a torn Achilles tendon, Loadholt avoided being released by agreeing in March to a non-guaranteed one-year deal that has a base salary of $2 million and could be worth as much as $3.5 million with incentives.

“My whole thing was just wanting to get back on the field,” Loadholt said. “I knew some things had to happen (with his contract). I didn’t really care.”

Loadholt has made it back. He took part last week in the first three practices of organized team activities, and pronounced himself 100 percent.

“I feel like I’m moving pretty well,” said Loadholt, who has been with Minnesota since his rookie year of 2009. “I got some things I’ve got to get better at obviously, but I’m working hard to get better and those things and be ready to roll.”

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After playing (and starting) in 89 of 91 possible games to begin his career, Loadholt actually has missed 21 straight regular-season games. He sat out the final five games of 2014 because of a shoulder injury.

Loadholt returned to his customary starting spot at right tackle for the 2015 preseason. However, on the second play of the second game, he went down with the tear of his left Achilles tendon.

“It’s been extremely frustrating considering the fact that I only had missed like a game or two before over the first couple of years or whatever,” Loadholt said. “But this last injury I had hopefully that will be the last.”

The Vikings, though, are taking no chances with Loadholt’s health. They signed free-agent tackle Andre Smith, who also entered the NFL in 2009 and had been a starter the past five years for Cincinnati.

Last year’s replacement for Loadholt, T.J. Clemmings, is now being looked at on the left side after a so-so rookie season. That leaves Smith to battle Loadholt for the right tackle job.

“He’s a good player,’’ Loadholt said. “He’s been around. I’ve been knowing him since we’ve been in the league together. That’s what the NFL is all about. You got to compete every year for your job, so it should be fun.

“I approach it like every year, come in and compete for my job. That’s been my mind-set every year, no matter how it may look to everyone else, whether they say Phil Loadholt is going to be the right tackle or you’re not.”

Loadholt once had a stranglehold on the job. He started 15 games as a rookie on a team that advanced to the 2009 NFC championship game, and was a fixture in the lineup until his 2014 shoulder injury.

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Loadholt turned 30 last January. Some doubt whether he can return to his previous form, although Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said he’s been “doing good” in OTAs.

Providing plenty of encouragement to Loadholt has been Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who rushed for 2,097 yards in 2012, second-best in NFL history, with Loadholt helping pave the way. Both played at Oklahoma, although they never were on the team at the same time.

“Just continue doing what you’ve been doing and what’s gotten you to this point now that you’re back out here at your position,” Peterson said of advice he has given Loadholt.

Following last year’s injury, Loadholt had surgery and remained in Minnesota for rehabilitation. Early this year, even though the Vikings wanted him to restructure his contract, he was optimistic about making a full recovery.

“I felt good a couple of months ago, when I was working with the training staff,” Loadholt said. “I stayed around the entire time and worked with those guys. They had put me through some drills and things like that, so once I started doing those drills, I felt like I would be ready to compete when the time comes.”

Loadholt will continue on the comeback trail during the second session of OTAs. Practices run Tuesday through Thursday.

Related Topics: MINNESOTA VIKINGS
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