Notebook: Slimmer Phil Loadholt getting pads down, showing improvement
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Phil Loadholt knows needs to keep working on getting his pad level down.
"Probably forever," the Minnesota Vikings' right tackle said on Friday. "As long as I'm playing."
It's the gift and curse of being one of the NFL's tallest players.
Loadholt is an imposing figure at 6-foot-8 who can engulf opponents and keep their hands off him with 36½-inch arms. But when he plays high, those same opponents can get underneath his pads and gain leverage.
Look no further than the way Detroit veteran Kyle Vanden Bosch bulled back the former second-round draft pick for one of the 10 quarterback pressures Loadholt allowed in a Sept. 25 loss to the Lions.
"There aren't very many defensive linemen (who are) going to be where he is, so he's got to bend at the waist and bend at the knees as well," coach Leslie Frazier said. "When he does that, he's a very good player. Just when he gets tall, then things get a little out of whack."
This was supposed to be Loadholt's breakthrough season. He reported to training camp in remarkable shape, has been playing around 330 pounds -- down 10 to 15 pounds from a year ago -- and finally has seen most of opposing rushers at least once.
But Loadholt had struggled often until Sunday, when he turned in easily his best performance of the season in a win over the Arizona Cardinals. He didn't allow a QB pressure and was as consistent in the run game as he's been over the past two seasons.
"I thought Phil's technique was the best it had been all year," offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said, "and so much of our game is technique, carrying over what you practice in the drills and during the week until Sunday. He definitely did that to a higher degree versus Arizona."
Loadholt credits his work with line coach Jeff Davidson for helping him get comfortable in the Vikings' new offensive scheme and identify technical issues on film. Loadholt also is no stranger to studying film of other taller tackles, from longtime Baltimore Ravens standout Jonathan Ogden (6-9) to former teammate Bryant McKinnie, who was no stranger to criticism about playing too high.
"I learned a lot from him, too," Loadholt said. "You definitely break down some guys with similar size, because it's different playing tackle at 6-8 than it is at 6-4."
Two players who have had trouble on and off the field apparently will get another shot on Sunday night against Chicago.
Receiver Bernard Berrian still is considered a starter, Frazier said, despite being deactivated against Arizona for reportedly missing two meetings and catching only two passes in 177 snaps this season.
"We still have him working in the rotation," Frazier said. "We're moving forward and we're counting on him to make some plays on Sunday."
Backup safety Tyrell Johnson, who was arrested on a drunk-charge on Sept. 20, collided with cornerback Cedric Griffin after taking a bad angle on a big play against Kansas City on Oct. 2 and blew zone coverage on what could have been a 22-yard touchdown against Arizona.
But Frazier indicated there are no plans yet to alter Johnson's role, which has included significant special-teams work and a couple of series each game in place of starting strong safety Jamarca Sanford on defense.
"You do have to weight the risk/reward," Frazier said. "You hope you get to the point where you're thinking 'more reward, more reward' as opposed to risk. And when you get to the point where you're thinking 'more risk,' then it really cuts down on reps to the point where those reps can disappear. So, we'd like to see consistency when you get 'X' amount of reps and that's what we're striving for with Tyrell and then we have to make a determination along the way."
The Bears continue to be in rough shape with injuries.
Two starters, right tackle Gabe Carimi (knee) and defensive tackle Matt Toeaina (knee), were ruled out on Friday's injury report. A third, end Julius Peppers (knee), is doubtful with what has been reported as a medial collateral ligament sprain.
"He wasn't able to do anything today," Bears coach Lovie Smith said of Peppers. "We are still hopeful, (but) when a guy doesn't practice at all during the week, we're not too optimistic. But we'll see."
Receiver Earl Bennett (chest) was a full participant in practice on Friday and is questionable. Cornerback Charles Tillman (hip) and end Corey Wooten (hand) are probable.
Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield is doubtful for Sunday's game while still dealing with neck stiffness. Receiver Percy Harvin was listed as questionable, but is expected to play with some sort of protection for his tender ribs.
• Gov. Mark Dayton announced in a news conference a series of meetings next week to discuss the Vikings' stadium push. He'll meet on Monday with state legislators, on Tuesday with NFL officials and on Wednesday with Vikings officials.
• Vikings defensive linemen taped rookie teammate Christian Ballard to one of the goal posts on the practice field after practice, then doused him with water and talcum powder. What happened? "I didn't get the chicken," Ballard said.