NFC North: Brandon Fusco

MINNEAPOLIS -- The rookie season of running back Jerick McKinnon is over, thanks to a lower back injury that will require surgery and an eight-week recovery. During an eight-game stretch in which he was effectively the Minnesota Vikings' primary back in Adrian Peterson's absence -- spanning from his first taste of a prominent role against Atlanta to the final game he played against Chicago -- McKinnon gained 531 yards on 108 carries and caught 23 passes for 121 yards.

[+] EnlargeJerick McKinnon
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesThe Vikings' Jerick McKinnon excelled at grinding out tough yards this season.
It's time to play the old projection game: Double those numbers over a full season, and you've got the following: 216 carries for 1,062 yards and 46 catches for 242 yards. Is that production good enough to make him the featured back of the future in Minnesota?

Quite possibly. The Vikings undoubtedly would like to see McKinnon turn more of his receptions into bigger gains, and they seem to like the idea of keeping several running backs healthy, but that kind of a full-season workload probably isn't far from what they'd envisioned their top running back, whether it's McKinnon, Adrian Peterson or someone else. In LaDainian Tomlinson's second season with Norv Turner in San Diego, he carried 292 times for 1,110 yards and caught 52 passes for 426 yards. That's a total of 342 touches at an average of 4.47 yards per touch. McKinnon didn't touch the ball as often in a half-season of concentrated work, but he did more when he got the ball -- 4.97 yards per touch on average -- the 29-year-old Tomlinson in 2008. Pair him with another running back or two, and you've got cost-efficient, dual-threat production from a young Vikings backfield in Turner's offense.

Two caveats here: McKinnon gained 238 of his rushing yards in two games against Atlanta and Buffalo (though he saw limited opportunities in a couple games in which the Vikings were trailing), and it's probably tougher to maintain efficient production over the second half of a season than it is the first. That's what has made Peterson's output so remarkable over the years. But McKinnon also showed an ability to get the tough yards -- he's 11th in the league with an average of 2.15 yards after contact, according to ESPN Stats & Information -- and he was playing without Brandon Fusco, the guard who might be the Vikings' best run-blocking lineman. McKinnon gained the Vikings' attention with his eye-popping workout numbers (a 4.41-second 40, 40 1/2-inch vertical leap and 32 bench press reps at the NFL scouting combine), and it isn't hard to see them penciling him in at the top of their backfield cast in the future.

If Peterson successfully appeals his suspension and is reinstated for the end of the season, he might get a chance to play in the Vikings' final two or three games, and he'd likely have opportunities to show how much of a difference-maker he could still be.

But it's important to think about the future with the facts the Vikings will consider: They've got a 22-year-old running back -- slated to count $648,750 against next year's cap -- who looks like he can be a significant piece of their backfield in the future. At the very least, that would likely mean asking Peterson to reduce his $15.4 million cap number at age 30 and share some of his role with McKinnon in the future. A Peterson-McKinnon tandem could be a wonderful asset for the Vikings, but it's fair to wonder how amenable Peterson would be to that kind of arrangement in Minnesota, as opposed to getting a fresh start somewhere else.

At the very least, McKinnon gave the Vikings a taste of what he could do as the chief member of their backfield group, and he rewarded their faith in spending a third-round pick on a player who had spent his final two college seasons as a triple-option quarterback. It stands to reason we'll see plenty more of him in the future, regardless of whether Peterson is in Minnesota.

The Film Don't Lie: Vikings

October, 14, 2014
A weekly look at what the Vikings must fix:

As much focus as has been put on the Vikings' struggles to protect quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, one of their offensive issues could hurt them even more this weekend in Buffalo: their inability to develop a consistent running game.

The Vikings' running backs -- Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata -- gained just 35 yards on 13 carries last week against the Detroit Lions. The Vikings' biggest play of the day came on a reverse to Jarius Wright, and Bridgewater gained 11 yards on three scrambles, but one of the league's best defensive fronts repeatedly pushed Vikings linemen into the backfield, recording four tackles for loss and putting the Vikings in untenable third-down situations all day. The Vikings went just 3-for-14 on third downs and needed to cover at least 6 yards on 10 of those plays. According to ESPN Stats & Information, 10 teams had at least 10 third-down attempts of 6 yards or more Sunday; only three won their game.

Coach Mike Zimmer said he liked some of the things McKinnon did Sunday, and McKinnon could get the majority of the carries against Buffalo. He seems to fit better than Asiata running out of the shotgun sets the Vikings mostly use with Bridgewater as the quarterback, and the Vikings also might be able to give their running game some juice with a few read-option plays (they ran four Sunday for 19 yards, according to ESPN Stats & Info).

But nothing will replace the ability of the Vikings' line to open holes against defensive fronts, and especially without injured right guard Brandon Fusco, the group could have a tough task again this week in Buffalo. The Bills have allowed a league-low 2.79 yards per carry this season.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The New England Patriots' first outing with their 3-4 defense didn't yield positive results, especially against the run; the Patriots gave up 191 rushing yards to the Miami Dolphins last Sunday, after hoping they had fixed a run defense that allowed 2,145 yards last season.

Though the Minnesota Vikings' own 185-yard rushing total against the St. Louis Rams was helped more by Cordarrelle Patterson's 67-yard touchdown run than by the Vikings' bread-and-butter plays with Adrian Peterson, there could be plenty of room to run against the Patriots on Sunday, too.

"We've seen it before. We see more space out there," guard Brandon Fusco said. "I'll be more out in space, getting to the second level more, running around a little more. I'm fine with that."

Fusco, in particular, saw plenty of action last week, as the Vikings gained 152 of their 185 yards on the right side of the line, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Their new running scheme frequently employs Fusco as a pulling guard, and he was out in front of Peterson on his two biggest runs last week -- a 17-yarder in the first quarter when Fusco was pulling with center John Sullivan, and a 16-yarder in the third quarter, when Fusco and fullback Jerome Felton were leading Peterson.

"(Left guard) Charlie (Johnson) and I are athletic guards, and we're using it to our advantage," Fusco said. "It's something (offensive coordinator) Norv (Turner) likes to do. Sully's out there pulling a little bit, too. It's getting us out in space and hitting the little guys.

"The St. Louis game, there was a play where we're pulling, but they couldn't stop it, so we just kept running it over and over. It seemed like maybe it was a coincidence that I was pulling a lot more than usual, but they couldn't stop the play."

Fusco and right tackle Phil Loadholt are typically the players behind whom the Vikings run the most, and after seeing the Dolphins push Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork around last week, the Vikings could find room to be aggressive with New England's front, as well.

"Miami did a great job, especially with Wilfork in the middle," Fusco said. "They pushed him around a little bit, and we've just got to be physical with these guys."

Fusco says new contract brings relief

September, 8, 2014
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Right guard Brandon Fusco, who was entering the final season of his rookie deal in 2014, had said several times he wasn't worried about the pace at which the Minnesota Vikings would get a new contract done for him. But after the deal came the day before the regular-season opener, in the form of a five-year, $25 million extension that included $6 million in guaranteed money, Fusco admitted it brought him a sense of relief.

"I can go out and play football now and not worry about that stuff," Fusco said. "My agents did a great job, and Rob Brzezinski and Rick Spielman made the process a lot easier for me. I’m just excited to be here for the next five years.”

The former sixth-round pick, who came to the Vikings from Division II Slippery Rock, said his first calls on Saturday were to his parents, informing them the deal was finished. His play last season -- in which he started 15 games before missing the season finale with a knee injury -- earned him the Vikings' largest performance bonus in March, bringing him an extra $237,060.74 on top of his $594,167 base salary.

Now, his rise on the field will be accompanied by a jump in tax brackets.

"That's one thing Brandon always does: he does his job. He gets his job done," coach Mike Zimmer said. "We're very excited to have him for the next five years."
ST. LOUIS -- The five-year, $25 million contract extension the Minnesota Vikings gave Brandon Fusco on Saturday came three years after they finished a seven-year contract extension with Adrian Peterson, which also came on the day before the season in 2011.

Since then, the Vikings' spending pattern has been consistent: They prized continuity on the offensive line and would devote the necessary resources to ensure they would have it.

In December 2011, the Vikings gave center John Sullivan a five-year deal, also worth $25 million. They used the fourth pick in the draft on left tackle Matt Kalil the following spring and made right tackle Phil Loadholt one of the highest-paid players at his position in March 2013. Even guard Charlie Johnson, the oldest and possibly least-entrenched member of the group, got a new two-year deal from the Vikings after the start of free agency this March, ensuring that the five-man group that has collectively played 163 of a possible 165 games over the last two seasons would remain intact for a third season.

Fusco's deal includes just $6 million guaranteed, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, but his deal will add to the bill for a team that was already spending more on its offensive line than all but 10 teams in the league, according to ESPN Stats and Information. If Kalil plays well enough to earn a long-term extension or the fifth-year option on his rookie deal in 2016, the total figures to rise even more. But with as much money as the Vikings still are spending on Peterson -- and with as much of their future as they will likely entrust to Teddy Bridgewater -- a reliable, cohesive line is an asset the team has deemed worth paying to retain.

The Fusco deal -- while still modest in comparison to the salaries for the league's highest-paid guards -- rewards a former sixth-round pick from tiny Slippery Rock University who has made himself into one of the game's best interior linemen, a road-grader for Peterson who isn't afraid to play with some edginess. It means the Vikings have effectively locked up all of their major in-house priorities before free agency next spring, and it keeps together a line the Vikings have been building since they took Sullivan and Loadholt in the 2008 and 2009 drafts.

There will be some questions for the group to answer, particularly in pass protection after the Vikings allowed 44 sacks last season. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner's scheme is predicated on keeping the quarterback upright long enough to push the ball downfield, and while the perception that his quarterbacks are regularly throwing off seven-step drops is overcooked -- Turner will call for plenty of play-action and quick-developing passes -- his offenses have typically centered around pocket passers who haven't been sacked very much.

But Turner made it clear early in training camp how much he valued the Vikings' offensive line continuity, and it seemed likely the Vikings would make sure they took care of Fusco before he hit free agency next March. The deal was consistent with an approach that's worked well enough for the team not to think of doing anything else.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Jeff Davidson hadn't traveled to Lehigh University to see Brandon Fusco.

A couple months after he started as the Minnesota Vikings' offensive line coach, Davidson had made the trip to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in the spring of 2011 primarily to watch Lehigh guard Will Rackley workout. Rackley was drafted in the third round that year by the Jacksonville Jaguars and now plays for the Baltimore Ravens. Fusco happened to be there, having traveled five hours across Pennsylvania from Slippery Rock University for the workout, and the more Davidson saw of the pugnacious lineman, the more time he wanted to spend seeing if Fusco could handle the nuances of a NFL scheme. The more he did that, the more convinced he became that Fusco could make the leap from Division II college football to the NFL.

"We were fairly excited about the guy," Davidson said. "We thought he had a chance to develop into an interior player for us. Every day, he's a guy that's continued to come in and work and find ways to improve. We ask our guys, each day, to come in and find one thing to work on, and try to get better at one thing each day. He has truly done that."

[+] EnlargeBrandon Fusco
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY SportsBrandon Fusco has become a fixture on the Vikings' offensive line.
It's how Fusco has quietly transformed himself from a sixth-round pick to an integral member of the Vikings' offensive line. He and right tackle Phil Loadholt have made the starboard side of the Vikings' line one of the game's most effective run-blocking units, and Fusco -- who started 32 of 33 games the last two seasons -- has outplayed his modest rookie contract, earning a team-high $237,060.74 from the NFL's performance bonus pool last season and triggering wage escalators that will leave him making $1.431 million this season. He'll be a free agent after this year, but a long-term deal before then seems like a definite possibility for the 25-year-old.

Not bad for a kid from a small school who had to work just to catch the Vikings' eye.

"[When I got here], I didn't know anything about the game of football like I do know," Fusco said. "It's just amazing. My whole game has changed."

Fusco arrived in Minnesota with only a rudimentary knowledge of good blocking technique: How to use leverage, what to look for in an opponent and where to put his hands. He played center at Slippery Rock, and was often strong enough to overpower defensive linemen without having to pay much attention to how he did it. He got a year to sit behind Anthony Herrera and work with Davidson -- who'd played five years in the league, worked as an assistant coach on the New England Patriots' three championship teams and arrived in Minnesota after a stint as the Carolina Panthers' offensive coordinator.

Davidson quickly found an eager pupil in Fusco, and with every drill, every mundane repetition, the guard began to improve.

"I like to say that's actually the way you do improve," Davidson said. "There's detailed work that we try to work with each of our drills, and we try to aid them to find that one thing they're working on each day. Sometimes the drills aren't exactly like a play against a defense, necessarily, but we'll try to work on hand placement and break down the block, where everything happens by step. People probably don't realize, and I don't realize, how much guys work on something as simple as tightening your elbow back down to your body when you're striking with your hands. He still works on it every day.

"If anything, you had to slow him down on the speed with which he tried to work some of the drills. He's the one guy who will come down here and try to knock somebody silly when we're going half-speed. The guy has a burning desire to get better each day, and that's what makes him a good football player."

Fusco struggled in his first year as a starter in 2012, as he was still learning the position and rotating with Geoff Schwartz early in the season, but he and Loadholt paved one of Adrian Peterson's most-traveled highways during his MVP season. Peterson gained 688 of his 2,097 yards running toward right guard or right tackle, according to ESPN Stats and Information, and a whopping 1,563 of his yards came on runs up the middle or toward the right side of the line.

The guard said he and Loadholt sometimes spend two to three nights a week together golfing, playing cards or watching TV, and their chemistry has carried over onto the field.

"[Him and Phil] click pretty well together, but more importantly than that, they communicate very well together," Davidson said. "I'm going up to correct them, and they're already correcting the thing that just happened on the previous play. There's very few things that get lost in translation with those guys, because they are excellent communicators with each other."

And last season, things really started to click for Fusco. Pro Football Focus rated him the ninth-best guard in the game in 2013, grading him as the fifth-best run blocker at the position. He's still got room to improve in pass protection, but he's carved out a niche as a road grader on the Vikings' line.

Like the rest of the group, Fusco is immersed in a new offensive scheme, which Davidson said changes the team's pass protection concepts more than it alters their run scheme. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner's downfield passing game will likely require linemen to protect quarterbacks longer, and the group could get tested early in the season.

But if Fusco keeps improving, there could be a reward waiting for him. He didn't think the Vikings had talked with his agent, Jared Fox, about a new contract yet, and didn't seem worried about it happening soon. "That's why I've got an agent," he said. "I'm just going to play, and we'll worry about that later down the road. I've still got a lot to prove."

The reason he could end up with a new deal at all, though, is because he's proven plenty already.

"The guy has truly taken it by the reins each day," Davidson said. "To this day, he's the guy that's the first one out here to go over there, trying to find something each day he's going to be able to work on."

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings will return to the team's facility in Eden Prairie, Minn., on Tuesday for the start of a three-day voluntary veteran's minicamp, which will give new coach Mike Zimmer his first real chance to work with his team on the field.

Before that, we thought it'd be a good idea to take stock of the Vikings' financial position after a busy offseason and see how their salary-cap picture compares to the rest of the league. The team has about $10.3 million in cap space remaining, according to ESPN Stats and Information. We'll start our discussion today with a look at the team's offense:


Percentage of salary-cap space: 7.18

Total cap charge: $8.98 million

NFL average: $11.67 million

Biggest cap hit: Matt Cassel, $5.75 million

Biggest bargain: Cassel

Thoughts: The Vikings aren't spending much money, by NFL standards on the position, counting only Cassel's $5.75 million and Christian Ponder's $3.23 million against the cap. That's obviously because they don't have a franchise player commanding a large chunk of their salary cap at the position, but while they'll try to get by with Cassel this season and possibly add a young quarterback in the draft, they'll at least know they won't have the major cap charges at the position that many other teams -- including all three of their division foes -- face. That's a silver lining of not having the position settled, though the Vikings would like to be in a Seahawks- or Colts-esque situation, where they're getting great production from a young quarterback who's still in his rookie deal.

[+] EnlargePeterson
Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY SportsAdrian Peterson has the biggest cap charge of any running back in the NFL.
Wide receiver

Percentage of salary-cap space: 9.82

Total cap charge: $12.29 million

NFL average: $13.56 million

Biggest cap hit: Greg Jennings, $7 million

Biggest bargain: Jarius Wright, $675,027
Thoughts: Cordarrelle Patterson looks like a star in the making, and Wright can be a capable No. 4 receiver, but the Vikings do have some things to figure out at the position. Jennings will be 31 in September, and Jerome Simpson could face NFL discipline after being arrested for a DUI last November. It wouldn't be surprising to see the Vikings add a receiver on the second or third day of the draft for some extra depth, and practice squad players like Adam Thielen and Rodney Smith could emerge in their second year with the team.

Tight end

Percentage of salary-cap space: 4.93

Total cap charge: $3.26 million

NFL average: $6.12 million

Biggest cap hit: Kyle Rudolph, $1.47 million

Biggest bargain: Chase Ford, $495,000

Thoughts: Rudolph could be a candidate for a contract extension if he has a strong season this year, though the Vikings haven't approached his agent about a new deal yet. Ford looked like a threat in the passing game late last season, and the Vikings will have room for another pass-catcher in Norv Turner's offense. Rhett Ellison has been a reliable run blocker at both tight end and fullback the past two seasons.

Running back/fullback

Percentage of salary-cap space: 14.8

Total cap charge: $18,51 million

NFL average: $7.75 million

Biggest cap hit: Adrian Peterson, $14.4 million

Biggest bargain: Matt Asiata, $570,000

Thoughts: Peterson has the biggest cap charge of any running back in the NFL, and with each passing year, his contract is more of an anachronism; as running backs continue to make less and less money, Peterson is the highest-paid player on the Vikings' roster at age 29. There's little question he's been worth the money, but it's worth noting there's no guaranteed money left in his deal and he only has $4.8 million left of signing bonus proration remaining on the contract he signed in 2011.

Asiata could be the Vikings' No. 2 running back this year, though it stands to reason they'll draft someone, and Zach Line, who had an impressive preseason last year before going to injured reserve with a knee injury, could find a role in Turner's offense catching passes out of the backfield.

Offensive line

Percentage of salary-cap space: 18.43

Total cap charge: $23.05 million

NFL average: $21.45 million

Biggest cap hit: Phil Loadholt, $5.75 million

Biggest bargain: Brandon Fusco, $1.45 million

Thoughts: Loadholt is in Year 2 of his new contract, and remains one of the highest-paid right tackles in the league. Matt Kalil will count $5.39 million against the cap in Year 3 of his rookie deal, and even though he didn't follow up a Pro Bowl rookie year with a big progression in Year 2, he can set himself up for a big payday with a good third season -- the Vikings will have to decide by next May whether or not to pick up the fifth-year option on his deal and potentially pay him more than $12 million in 2016.

Fusco gets little attention, but continued to develop into a solid right guard last season, and triggered escalator clauses in his rookie contract by starting 15 games after playing all 16 in 2012. He'll be a free agent after this season, and it wouldn't be surprising to see the Vikings begin to explore a new deal for him before next March.
MINNEAPOLIS -- As the Minnesota Vikings emerge from the busiest period of free agency with more than $11 million left in cap space, they can begin to turn their attention to the pursuits that will occupy the rest of that money.

They'll need roughly $6.5 million for their 2014 rookie pool, though as estimates, they'd only need about $3.2 million in salary cap space for those players, assuming many of their cap numbers aren't among the top 51 contracts on the roster. The Vikings could also look in the coming months toward a contract extension for tight end Kyle Rudolph, who will be a free agent next spring, has said several times he wants to stay with the Vikings and reiterated that this week in a pair of remarks (to the St. Paul Pioneer Press and KSTP-TV).

A league source said there have been "no talks whatsoever" between the Vikings and Rudolph's agent about a contract extension, and even though the tight end wants to get a deal done this offseason, it might behoove him to wait. After missing eight games last season with a broken foot, he'd benefit from a full season in Norv Turner's offense (which has been famously friendly to tight ends) and could command more money with big numbers in 2014. The Vikings haven't been in the mode of signing their players to extensions before the final years of their contracts, anyway; they got Brian Robison's four-year deal done last October, and waited until just before free agency to sign Everson Griffen this spring and Phil Loadholt last year.

But while it's probably too soon to assume things will heat up between the Vikings and Rudolph, it does seem like a good possibility the Vikings will reward the former second-round pick for a big season. The team cut John Carlson this spring, further cementing Rudolph's status as their top tight end, and the Vikings have few other major free agents next spring; guard Brandon Fusco could be in line for a new deal, but players like wide receiver Jerome Simpson, defensive end Corey Wootton, safety Jamarca Sanford and fullback Jerome Felton (who can opt out of his deal after next season) would be relatively affordable to keep, if the Vikings did indeed want to retain them.

With a big season, Rudolph might be able to get a deal along the lines of the one the Baltimore Ravens gave tight end Dennis Pitta last month. Pitta, who was drafted a year earlier than Rudolph and caught 61 passes for 669 yards and seven touchdowns in 2012 before getting hurt last season, got a five-year, $32 million deal, with $16 million guaranteed. While there's nothing developing between Rudolph and the Vikings in terms of an extension yet -- and there might not be quite as soon as the tight end might like -- he's in a good spot to produce and get rewarded for it.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Of the many young players on the Minnesota Vikings' roster who earned playing time and performance bonuses from the NFL for their work last season, right guard Brandon Fusco topped the list.

Fusco earned an extra $237,060.74 for his work last season, giving him the biggest share of the Vikings' $3.46 million total distribution, according to figures released by the NFL management council. The total amount is negotiated in the collective bargaining agreement between owners and players, and while every player gets at least a small bonus, the system is designed to reward low-salaried players who see the most playing time.

For a team like the Vikings, that meant a number of players saw big boosts to their paycheck; Fusco made just $594,167 last season, and he started 15 games.

See the NFL's full list of performance-based pay distributions here.

Vikings: Xavier Rhodes practices again

December, 26, 2013
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- In addition to getting Adrian Peterson back on the practice field, the Vikings saw cornerback Xavier Rhodes practice for the second time this week on Thursday, giving coach Leslie Frazier hope the rookie could play in the season finale against the Detroit Lions on Sunday.

Before he missed the Vikings' past two games with a sprained ankle, Rhodes had been turning into one of the Vikings' best cover corners, and the team especially suffered without him in Cincinnati last weekend, when Chris Cook gave up two touchdown passes in a 42-14 loss. If the Vikings were to get Rhodes back on the field, it could help them against Calvin Johnson and give them one more chance to see the rookie against top competition this year. Cook has typically covered Johnson in Vikings-Lions matchups, but if Rhodes is healthy enough to start, he could see time lined up against Johnson.

The Vikings are also trying to get cornerback Shaun Prater back from a sprained ankle, and coach Leslie Frazier said his starters would depend on "how healthy they are."

"They should all be out there tomorrow," Frazier said. "We'll figure out how healthy they all actually are."

Frazier also said running back Toby Gerhart looks like a long shot to play Sunday; Gerhart was not on the practice field again on Thursday with a strained hamstring.

Here is the Vikings' full injury report:
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson did not practice on Thursday, getting treatment on his sprained right foot, but coach Leslie Frazier said he still expects Peterson to play on Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Peterson did some limited work in practice on Wednesday, which was his earliest practice of the week in more than a month, but Frazier thought it best to hold Peterson out for precautionary reasons on Thursday.

"We just thought it'd be wise to give him a day inside with our training staff, to work through some of the kinks from yesterday's practice," Frazier said. "Unless something comes up tomorrow that I don't foresee, he should be ready to go on Sunday."

Frazier also said running back Toby Gerhart, who joined Peterson on the Vikings' inactive list last Sunday with a strained right hamstring, should be ready to go on Sunday. The same, however, might not be true for tight end John Carlson or defensive back Xavier Rhodes.

Both missed practice on Thursday -- Carlson wasn't feeling well after sitting out last Sunday with a concussion, and will have to clear some aspects of the NFL concussion protocol before he can practice again. Rhodes, meanwhile, is still unable to practice with a sprained ankle, and if neither one is able to practice on Friday, it seems unlikely either would play Sunday.

Here is the Vikings' full injury report:
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- As the Minnesota Vikings got back on the practice field, they had an unusual participant: Adrian Peterson took part in a Wednesday practice for the first time since Nov. 13, working in a limited role as he tries to come back from a sprained right foot in time for Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Vikings also had running back Toby Gerhart, who missed Sunday's game against the Philadelphia Eagles because of a strained right hamstring, as a limited participant, and coach Leslie Frazier seemed optimistic about both playing on Sunday. Peterson has been missing practice time because of a groin injury, which isn't completely healed yet, but after he was unable to do more than light work last week and missed Sunday's game, Peterson will likely get more work in the middle of the week than he has recently.

"If he's healthy, we'd like for him to get some work," Frazier said. "We think that helps with the timing and helps the offensive line as well."

Frazier also said tight end John Carlson has cleared NFL concussion protocol; Carlson practiced Wednesday, and seems likely to play Sunday.

Here is the Vikings' full injury report:
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- While the Vikings are waiting to see whether running backs Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart are able to play Sunday, they'll have to figure out how to handle one of the league's hottest offenses with a secondary that is looking increasingly thin.

Cornerback Xavier Rhodes is doubtful for Sunday's game against the Philadelphia Eagles with a sprained ankle, coach Leslie Frazier said Friday, and cornerback Chris Cook showed up on the Vikings' injury report for the first time Friday with a knee injury that limited him in practice. The oft-injured cornerback is listed as questionable, and if both he and Rhodes were to miss the game, it would leave the Vikings without their top three cornerbacks Sunday.

Frazier said he would likely start Marcus Sherels in place of Rhodes, but he would have to figure out another plan if Cook were unable to go. The Vikings have been using safety Robert Blanton at cornerback, and he would likely play there Sunday. Shaun Prater is also healthy, and the Vikings have cornerbacks Kip Edwards and Robert Steeples on their practice squad. They also worked out several cornerbacks this week, Frazier said.

"When we’re getting as thin as we are, everybody is a candidate to be moved around," Frazier said. "So you don’t rule out any possibilities at this point."

The Vikings have the league's second-worst defense this season as it is, and with so many players missing in the secondary, they could be easy prey for Eagles quarterback Nick Foles on Sunday.

In other Vikings injury news:
  • Gerhart did some work in practice Friday, though Frazier said the Vikings didn't test his quickness as much as his overall stride. They will continue to evaluate him Saturday and possibly Sunday. "To get out there and move around, I felt pretty good," Gerhart said. "We'll take it day-to-day, keep getting treatment, keep evaluating and see what happens."
  • Tight end John Carlson will miss Sunday's game with a concussion, leaving the Vikings with only Rhett Ellison and Chase Ford at the position.
  • Cornerback Josh Robinson (fractured sternum) is still out.
  • Guard Brandon Fusco (knee) did not practice Friday and is doubtful for Sunday's game, though Frazier said Fusco "has a chance" to play. The Vikings had guard Jeff Baca -- who has been inactive for all but one game this season -- working in Joe Berger's special-teams spot Friday, indicating they would likely put Berger at Fusco's right guard spot.
  • Linebackers Larry Dean (knee) and Chad Greenway (wrist) are probable for Sunday's game. Greenway, who has been playing with a broken wrist all season, said he has been able to function better now that he's playing with a pad on both sides of his wrist, rather than a full cast, and sounded optimistic Friday that he wouldn't need surgery to set the bone after the season.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings were still waiting on many of their injured players to get back on the practice field on Thursday, and coach Leslie Frazier is holding out hope that several of them will be able to practice Friday and play Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Chief among those players are running backs Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart, both of whom sat out again on Thursday. Peterson worked his sprained right foot in a pool, and will try to practice on Friday. Frazier still sounded more optimistic about the chances of Gerhart, who has a strained hamstring, playing than he did about Peterson. "[We need] to see if he can burst a little bit with a hamstring," Frazier said.

Frazier said the Vikings could wait until Sunday before declaring Peterson or Gerhart out for the game, depending on how they look Friday, but it's safe to say both running backs would have to give the Vikings some hope with how they look on Friday.

Asked about Peterson's chances, Frazier said, "Everything he's done has been in a pool, so it would be premature for me to suggest that it was possible. We'll have to wait and see."

Tight end John Carlson still has not cleared NFL concussion protocol, and if he doesn't do so in time to practice on Friday, he would likely miss Sunday's game as well. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes missed his second day of practice, and will be "touch-and-go" with his sprained ankle, Frazier said. Given how well Rhodes has played in the last two weeks -- and how tall of a task the Vikings will have against the Eagles' offense -- the rookie might be nearly as important as the two running backs.

Here is the Vikings' full injury report:
  • Did not practice: RB Adrian Peterson (groin/foot); RB Toby Gerhart (hamstring), CB Xavier Rhodes (ankle), TE John Carlson (concussion), CB Josh Robinson (chest), G Brandon Fusco (knee).
  • Limited participant: LB Larry Dean (knee).
  • Full participant: LB Chad Greenway (wrist).
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- While Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson had reason to believe he'd avoided a serious foot injury on Monday, coach Leslie Frazier was dealing with plenty of other injury news, not all of it good.

The team placed tight end Kyle Rudolph on injured reserve with a fractured foot, ending his season five weeks after he got hurt against the Dallas Cowboys on Nov. 3. John Carlson, who has 32 catches this season and had done a solid job as Rudolph's replacement, sustained a concussion on Sunday in Baltimore.

Tight end wasn't the only position where the Vikings found themselves without much depth. Running back Toby Gerhart strained his hamstring on his 41-yard touchdown run on Sunday, and could be out or limited against the Philadelphia Eagles. If Peterson and Gerhart can't go, the Vikings would be left with third-string halfback Matt Asiata, fullback Jerome Felton or practice squad running back Joe Banyard.

The Vikings also lost cornerback Xavier Rhodes to a sprained right ankle; Rhodes was on crutches for the second straight day on Monday. The team is still trying to decide whether to activate safety Harrison Smith from injured reserve, though Smith seemed optimistic last week he could return from turf toe, and cornerback Josh Robinson is still out because of a fractured sternum. Depending on how many players the Vikings have missing from their secondary, they could add a defensive back from their practice squad or sign one this week.

Right guard Brandon Fusco also strained his knee on Sunday, and the Vikings decided to keep wide receiver Greg Childs on the physically unable to perform list for the rest of the season. Childs had torn the patellar tendons in both knees during training camp in 2012, and while he "did a good job in his returns, did some things we were glad to see," Frazier said, the Vikings decided not to risk bringing him back for the final three games of the season.

In one piece of good injury news for the Vikings, quarterback Christian Ponder has passed the NFL's concussion protocol and is ready to return this week. Frazier said the Vikings' coaching staff would make a decision on a starting quarterback for Sunday's game later this week. Matt Cassel started in relief of Ponder on Sunday, throwing for 265 yards in the loss to the Ravens.