NFC North: John Sullivan

Welcome back to our chronological look at the 10 plays that most shaped the Minnesota Vikings' 2013 season. Today: Play No. 10.

WHEN: Dec. 8, 2013

WHERE: A 29-26 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

THE PLAY: Cordarrelle Patterson's 79-yard touchdown off a screen pass from Matt Cassel.

WHAT THEY SAID: Patterson: "The way my offensive line blocked and (fullback) Jerome (Felton) kicked his man out ... it was perfect. There was no way that I should have scored. I made a cut and (Matt) Elam slipped and it was a touchdown."

IMPACT OF THE PLAY: The play gave the Vikings a 26-22 lead with just under a minute to play, which they wound up blowing on Joe Flacco's touchdown pass in the closing seconds. But this play, and the handoffs Patterson would turn into big gains, underscored two points: Just how dynamic a talent the Vikings had on their hands, and what a disservice they had done themselves by not finding simple ways to get the ball into Patterson's hands sooner. Say what you want about Patterson's learning curve, about the speed with which he grasps the complexities of a NFL offense, but what he did on this play was pure instinct; he motioned into the right slot on third-and-10, faked a downfield route before stepping back for a screen from Matt Cassel, stepped through a lane created by running back Matt Asiata (not Felton) and Joe Berger, followed a block from John Sullivan, corkscrewed safety Matt Elam into the ground and raced the remaining 25 yards for a touchdown. The play wasn't unlike what Patterson does on kickoffs, showcasing his exemplary vision and top-end speed. It was a brilliantly simple design from offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, and it's a shame the Vikings didn't find occasions to employ Patterson in similar ways earlier in the year.
Welcome to Around the Horns, our daily look at what's happening on the Vikings beat:

Tuesdays in the NFL are typically when players have their day off, so it also tends to be when they make their public appearances, whether for charity, a sponsorship deal or something else. For Vikings running back Toby Gerhart, the last two Tuesdays couldn't have looked any more different.

He showed up at a Best Buy in Richfield, Minn., last week for the "Ultimate Gamers Showdown," squaring off in a couple games of "Madden NFL 25" on PlayStation 4 as part of the event. This week? Gerhart spent his Tuesday on a dairy farm.

The running back appeared at Bremer Farm in Hastings, Minn., as part of the family's prize for submitting the winning photo in a National Dairy Council contest. Michael Rand of the Minneapolis Star Tribune spent the day with Gerhart, chronicling his experience learning to feed calves and talking football with the family farmers.

Gerhart grew up in Norco, Calif., which bills itself as "Horsetown USA" and mostly has riding trails instead of sidewalks, so he's not unfamiliar with rural living. But there's a tendency to forget sometimes how many different types of people make it to the NFL. Gerhart is there. So is Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway, who grew up playing nine-man football in a South Dakota town of 400, and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, who emerged from poverty in Philadelphia. The league brings together players from a fascinating array of backgrounds, and Rand's story is an enjoyable reminder of that fact.

Here are today's other Vikings stories of note:
  • We looked at the legacy Vikings center John Sullivan is carrying on of charity work at the University of Minnesota's Amplatz Children's Hospital, and exactly what goes into developing a relationship between a player and a cause.
  • We also heard from former Vikings tackle Tim Irwin, who was named to the Vikings' All-Mall of America Field team and came back to Minneapolis on Sunday to watch safety Harrison Smith -- whom Irwin coached in youth football -- return from injured reserve.
  • Andrew Krammer of 1500ESPN.com looked at what made Matt Cassel so efficient in the Vikings' win over the Eagles on Sunday.
  • Cordarrelle Patterson's impact on the Vikings' offense is continuing to grow, writes Tim Yotter of Viking Update.
MINNEAPOLIS -- It was in April 2012 at the University of Minnesota's Amplatz Children's Hospital, shortly after former Vikings guard Steve Hutchinson had signed with the Tennessee Titans, that Hutchinson pulled center John Sullivan aside and asked him to take the mantle of leadership for the Vikings' work with the hospital.

Sullivan had been going to charity events there since his rookie season, following a player he looked to as a mentor on and off the field, and Hutchinson knew he needed to ask a current player to keep the relationship with the hospital strong now that he was leaving. Sullivan was an easy choice.

Sullivan
"He asked me at Amplatz, at their annual event, WineFest," Sullivan said. "I was sitting with him -- he knew he was going to Tennessee, and he said, 'They'd like to have a current player hosting the events. I'd love it if you could take over.' I learned a lot from Steve -- how to go about handling myself here, and this being the right thing to do. He deserves some credit for that."

Sullivan dove into the work to such a degree that on Tuesday, at Amplatz Children's Hospital, the Vikings named him their 2013 Community Man of the Year, making him a nominee for the NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year Award in February. Sullivan personally donated $150,000 toward the medically-friendly playground built in his name over the summer, has sponsored Halloween, Thanksgiving and December holiday parties over the past three years and is the celebrity chair for the hospital's golf event each year. On Tuesday, he hosted the 2013 holiday party with five other Vikings players -- quarterback Matt Cassel, punter Jeff Locke, wide receiver Jerome Simpson and offensive linemen Charlie Johnson, Matt Kalil and Kevin Murphy -- continuing a tradition passed to him by Hutchinson.

NFL teams are approached regularly with opportunities for charity work, and the Vikings are no different. But the relationship between a team and a charity tends to thrive when there's a player who's personally invested in it.

"There are so many great charities out there. There are so many things you want to do," Cassel said. "We get a lot of opportunities to go out to other guys' charities -- they might be passionate about something, where we might be more passionate about something else. But supporting each other -- because we've all been blessed to be put in this position to go and give back -- is a pretty special and unique opportunity for all of us."

Cassel has been involved with the NFL's Play 60 initiative to promote youth fitness since his time in Kansas City, and has continued his work there in Minnesota. That particular cause can travel with a player around the country, but something like a local children's hospital obviously cannot. In those cases, players often find a younger candidate to make sure the work continues after they're gone.

"Some of those charities, it's a great opportunity for guys to step in," Cassel said. "Maybe somebody's stepping out, and they need that void filled. John has done a remarkable job here, obviously."

Said Sullivan: "Just like I was here to support somebody hosting these events before, (my teammates) make this all possible. You need a lot of guys out here to support you and support this cause. It doesn't take much. It's a positive experience for everybody involved, so it's not a hard sell."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings will officially be without middle linebacker Erin Henderson on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers. Henderson is out because of a personal matter, coach Leslie Frazier said, and second-year man Audie Cole will start in his place.

Henderson
Rookie Michael Mauti could also see time there, though Mauti is questionable after aggravating his surgically repaired left knee last Sunday in Seattle. Frazier said the Vikings will see how Mauti does on special teams before making any more determinations about whether he will play on defense.

The Vikings also have to decide whether Cole or strongside linebacker Chad Greenway will run the Vikings' huddle; Frazier said the Vikings have had both Cole and Greenway relaying play calls in practice this week. Cole said he's prepared to handle the job, and the fact that he will likely stay on the field in the nickel package would lend some consistency to the defense if Cole is indeed running it.

Cole was released on Nov. 7, when the Vikings needed to make room for an extra offensive lineman before their game against the Washington Redskins, but the team brought him back two days later. Now, the former seventh-round pick is getting his chance to start.

"They told me [they wanted to bring me back when they cut me]," Cole said. "Obviously it’s still not cool. It’s not what you want to happen. I understand why they did it. Someone had to go; I wish it wasn’t me but it was. You’ve just got to take it. It sucked, I came back and things have been going good for me lately."

In other Vikings injury news:
  • Both running back Adrian Peterson (groin) and wide receiver Greg Jennings (Achilles) are listed as questionable -- possibly a sign of caution after Jennings went from probable to inactive last week against Seattle -- but both are expected to play on Sunday.
  • Defensive end Brian Robison is questionable with muscle spasms in his neck -- "It was just something that popped out of nowhere," Robison said -- but he remains optimistic he'll be able to play. If he can't, the Vikings would put Everson Griffen at right end, and might either have to use a defensive tackle to spell Griffen and Jared Allen or move Justin Trattou up from the practice squad.
  • Center John Sullivan has cleared the NFL's concussion protocol; he's questionable, but Frazier said he expects Sullivan will be ready to play.
  • Cornerback Josh Robinson (fractured sternum) and tight end Kyle Rudolph (fractured foot) are both out.
  • Allen (back) was a full participant on Friday and is probable. So is running back Matt Asiata (shoulder), linebacker Chad Greenway (wrist) and quarterback Christian Ponder (left shoulder).
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith, who in October was placed on injured reserve with a designation to return after he suffered turf toe on his left foot, said he still plans to be back for the Vikings' final three games of the season.

Smith
Smith is eligible to start practicing next Wednesday, at which point he'll be able to see whether he's able to return on Dec. 15 against Philadelphia. He has been running on an underwater treadmill -- "It's amazing how out of shape you can get in a few weeks," he said -- and will get a MRI on his foot in the near future. But at this point, Smith sees no reason to think he won't be back to help the Vikings finish the season.

"Even when we come in for training camp, you can be in the best shape you think you can be in and it’s still not football shape," Smith said. "So I think you've just got to play into [it] through practice.’’

In other Vikings injury news:
  • Coach Leslie Frazier said middle linebacker Erin Henderson, who has missed the last two days of practice due to a personal matter, might not make it back in time for Sunday's game. If that happens, Frazier said, second-year linebacker Audie Cole would start in Henderson's spot. Rookie Michael Mauti got eight defensive snaps last Sunday against Seattle, but Frazier said Mauti is dealing with some soreness in his left knee; he tore his left ACL in each of his last two seasons at Penn State, and jarred his knee on the turf last Sunday, Frazier said. "It scared him a little bit," Frazier said.
  • Defensive end Brian Robison was limited in practice on Thursday with a neck injury, and defensive end Jared Allen stopped practicing early because of a back injury. Both players, though, seem likely to play Sunday.
  • Center John Sullivan has still not been cleared to return from a concussion. If he's unable to practice on Friday, Frazier said the Vikings would likely rule him out for Sunday's game, putting Joe Berger in at center.

Vikings: Jennings, Peterson sit out

November, 20, 2013
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Both wide receiver Greg Jennings and running back Adrian Peterson sat out of the Minnesota Vikings' practice on Wednesday, but coach Leslie Frazier was hopeful that both would be ready for Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers.

The Vikings will try to get Jennings, who was a surprise scratch on Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks with a strained right Achilles tendon, a full day of practice on Thursday, Frazier said. Though he added Jennings "had some soreness" on Wednesday morning. The coach, meanwhile, is "cautiously optimistic" Peterson will be able to play after being limited by a strained groin against the Seahawks.

"We'll see what we need to do this week. Is he able to practice today or tomorrow, or do we hold him back until Friday?," Frazier said. "We'll make that determination this afternoon when we sit down and talk with our trainers."

In other Vikings injury news:
  • The Vikings were also without center John Sullivan, who had not cleared the NFL's concussion protocol in time to practice on Wednesday. Joe Berger is preparing to start if Sullivan is not cleared before Sunday.
  • Linebacker Erin Henderson missed practice, but the team said the reason for the middle linebacker's absence was not injury-related.
  • Tight end Kyle Rudolph (fractured foot) and cornerback Josh Robinson (fractured sternum) were out of practice.
  • Tight end Rhett Ellison (ankle), defensive tackle Fred Evans (knee), defensive tackle Letroy Guion (chest) and linebacker Michael Mauti (knee) were limited.
  • Lastly, wide receiver Greg Childs returned to practice for the first time since tearing the patellar tendons in both knees last August. The Vikings have three weeks to activate the second-year player from the physically-unable-to-perform list or put him on injured reserve, but Childs was still hopeful he could see game action this season. "I’m going to work hard and I”m going to get on the field," he said. "There was never a doubt that I was ever going to play again."

Vikings: Robinson has broken sternum

November, 18, 2013
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings' string of injuries in their secondary continued on Sunday; cornerback Josh Robinson will miss the next 4-6 weeks with a fractured sternum, coach Leslie Frazier said on Monday.

Robinson
Frazier wasn't exactly sure when Robinson got injured on Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks, but it's possible that the second-year cornerback could miss the rest of the season. Rookie Xavier Rhodes will likely take Robinson's left cornerback spot in the base defense, with Marcus Sherels taking over for Robinson as the slot cornerback in the nickel.

Robinson has probably been the most-maligned cornerback on the Vikings' roster this season, though he's been far from the only problem with the secondary in the league's worst-scoring defense. He had started to improve in the last several weeks, but Pro Football Focus still has him ranked as the worst slot cornerback in the league.

Frazier also confirmed that center John Sullivan sustained a concussion on Sunday, and will have to go through the NFL's testing protocol before he can return to action.

Rapid Reaction: Minnesota Vikings

November, 17, 2013
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SEATTLE -- A few thoughts on the Minnesota Vikings' 41-20 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday:

What it means: The Vikings are now 2-8, tied for the worst mark in the NFC. Their loss to the Seahawks on Sunday was their most lopsided road defeat of the season, and it extinguished whatever minuscule hopes they had of ending the 2013 season with a winning record. The Vikings will go to Green Bay next week to face a reeling Packers team, and after Christian Ponder followed a sharp first half with two interceptions -- one that set up a touchdown and another that was returned for a score -- Minnesota might decide now is the time to put Josh Freeman back in action.

Stock watch: Falling: Ponder. The quarterback's second half was among the ugliest he's had in 2 1/2 professional seasons; he hit just four of nine passes for 15 yards and threw two interceptions. He had another pass that could have been intercepted for a touchdown. Ponder hit seven of seven throws in the second quarter, and finished the first half 9-of-13 for 114 yards and a touchdown, though he did fumble deep in Vikings territory. But as he's done so many times in Minnesota, he proved unable to put two consistent halves together, and was pulled for Matt Cassel with just more than 12 minutes left in the game. Coach Leslie Frazier could take most of the week, once again, to decide on a starting quarterback, but if the Vikings aren't going to use Freeman now, it's worth asking if they ever will.

Big plays kill Vikings: Seattle put up 24 points in the first half despite holding the ball for just more than 11 minutes, as quarterback Russell Wilson burned the Vikings for a number of big plays. On Seattle's first-quarter touchdown drive, Wilson connected with Doug Baldwin for 44 yards after Xavier Rhodes fell down, and found Ricardo Lockette in the middle of the Vikings' defense for 27 yards on the next play. The second-year quarterback finished the day with 230 passing yards and a pair of touchdowns, despite attempting just 18 passes.

Sullivan injured: Center John Sullivan left the game in the fourth quarter with a head injury and did not return. A press box announcement did not specify if Sullivan had a concussion, but if he does, he could be challenged to return for next week's game in Green Bay.

What's next: The Vikings head to Lambeau Field next Sunday to face the Packers.

Vikings injury report: Eight sit out

November, 5, 2013
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Vikings were missing eight players in their only full practice before Thursday's game with the Washington Redskins, and another three -- cornerbacks Chris Cook, Xavier Rhodes and Josh Robinson -- were limited by injuries. It seems likely that all three corners will play on Thursday, but the Vikings could be missing a number of other starters against the Redskins.

Safety Jamarca Sanford, whose groin injury is only the latest ailment he's had this season, seems like he will be hard-pressed to return for the game; defensive coordinator Alan Williams said Robert Blanton will get playing time again with Mistral Raymond alongside Andrew Sendejo, which would seem to indicate the Vikings will be without Sanford for the second straight game.

Left tackle Phil Loadholt will definitely miss Thursday's game with a concussion, coach Leslie Frazier said, which means the Vikings will start J'Marcus Webb at right tackle and break up a group (Matt Kalil, Charlie Johnson, John Sullivan, Brandon Fusco and Loadholt) that has started every game since the beginning of the 2012 season. Johnson also sat out of practice on Tuesday with an elbow injury, while Joe Berger worked at left guard.

And the Vikings could also be thin at defensive tackle; both Letroy Guion (chest/knee) and Fred Evans (knee) sat out on Tuesday. That could leave the Vikings with just three healthy defensive tackles for Thursday, in Sharrif Floyd, Kevin Williams and Chase Baker.

“There are definitely challenges (to a short week), especially if you have injuries like we do," coach Leslie Frazier said in a conference call with Washington reporters. "Trying to get everybody on the field in a short week, in our case -- if we had a couple extra days, there are some guys who probably would be able to play on Sunday, but because we’re playing on Thursday, they’re not going to be able to make the game."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson returned to practice on Thursday after attending a funeral for his 2-year-old son on Wednesday, but Peterson was limited because of a hamstring injury.

Peterson has not been on the Vikings' injury report because of a hamstring ailment this year, and while a major injury would likely have kept Peterson out of the entire practice, a lingering hamstring issue could pose a problem for the reigning NFL MVP on Monday night against the New York Giants. The Vikings, of course, construct their offense heavily around Peterson, and they're certainly hoping he'll be ready to go with Josh Freeman playing his first game this week.

We'll continue to monitor Peterson's status. If he can't play, Toby Gerhart would start at running back.

In other Vikings injury news:
  • Cornerback A.J. Jefferson (ankle) did not participate; he was initially injured in Week 3 against the Cleveland Browns, and coach Leslie Frazier said Jefferson's injury flared up on him this week.
  • Kicker Blair Walsh (hamstring) also missed practice. Walsh did not kick off on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers because of the same injury, which is to his non-kicking leg, but was still available for field goal duty.
  • Cornerback Xavier Rhodes was limited with a sprained ankle. So was defensive tackle Kevin Williams (knee) and wide receiver Jarius Wright (ankle).
  • Quarterback Christian Ponder (rib), center John Sullivan (hand) and tight end Rhett Ellison (knee) were full participants.
  • Lastly, as we discussed earlier today, Harrison Smith (turf toe) missed practice, and could head to injured reserve if he needs surgery.

Another rocky performance for Ponder

September, 22, 2013
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings' next game is a home contest in name only. They will face the Pittsburgh Steelers next Sunday at London's Wembley Stadium, having given up a date at Mall of America Field after going 7-1 there last year. They will try as hard as they can to make it feel like a home game, but with a bipartisan crowd and groups of fans who have no lasting attachment to the team, it certainly won't resemble a normal Sunday in the raucous, rollicking Metrodome.

Then again, if coach Leslie Frazier follows through on what he said Sunday and keeps Christian Ponder as the starting quarterback, the Vikings might be better off with a more tepid fan base, anyway.

The 63,672 in attendance for the Vikings' final home opener at the Metrodome were in full throat on Sunday afternoon, calling for backup quarterback Matt Cassel and booing the Vikings in the third quarter when they left Ponder in the game. Frazier said after the game that Ponder will remain the starting quarterback -- though he couched his support of the third-year starter a little more than he normally does -- and the Vikings had enough issues around Ponder, particularly on their offensive line, that his supporters could point to other problems.

"I've got to go back and look at it, see what's creating the inconsistency, why we're not executing as well as we need to in certain situations," Frazier said. "We'll evaluate it, and make the decision that you have to make. But as we speak, I don't see [a QB change] happening."

But even though Ponder wasn't the only -- or even the biggest -- problem in the Vikings' 31-27 loss to the Browns on Sunday afternoon, he failed again to do what good quarterbacks often can, and rise above mistakes to lift his team to a win. He followed his solid second half in Chicago last week with a productive start to the game on Sunday, but his second-quarter interception led to a Browns touchdown, and Ponder fumbled from the Cleveland 10 on the final play of the first half.

And after halftime, Ponder went 10-for-20 for just 63 yards, missing an open Greg Jennings on a fourth-quarter throw that might have allowed the Vikings to put the Browns away.

"He got off to a good start, a good opening drive," Frazier said. "But you know, you've got to do it for four quarters, and he didn't do it today for four quarters."

One of the more perplexing things about the start of the Vikings' season is how much Ponder's offensive line has struggled in front of him. The group was one of the league's most reliable last season, with all five starters in the lineup for every game of the season. It was expected to be the bedrock of the offense this season after the Vikings resigned Phil Loadholt, but the group has struggled both to open holes for Adrian Peterson and to protect Ponder, who was sacked six times on Sunday.

"As individuals, all we have to judge is ourselves and how we played. That's all you can control," center John Sullivan said. "So I look at myself and I have to do a better job of everything in the game."

Ponder said "it's impossible to not hear" the chants for Cassel, but said there's "no doubt" he'll remain the Vikings' starting quarterback.

"We want to win just as bad as the fans, and as bad as anyone else," Ponder said. "We're more disappointed than they are, and we have to give them something to cheer about."

The quarterback might settle for something closer to a neutral site environment next week, since the fans in his home stadium didn't do much cheering for him on Sunday.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings, playing their final game without Pro Bowl fullback Jerome Felton, will also be missing his top replacement on Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.

Ellison
Tight end Rhett Ellison, who has also blocked for Adrian Peterson from the fullback position, will miss Sunday's game with a hyperextended knee, coach Leslie Frazier said on Friday. That means the Vikings are down to a pair of options at the spot: undrafted rookie Zach Line, who is getting his first experience as a blocking back this season, and tight end John Carlson, who has done some work in the backfield since training camp started.

Carlson signed with the Vikings last year primarily as a receiving threat, but caught just eight passes for 43 yards and struggled to get on the field as an in-line tight end with Kyle Rudolph emerging as a Pro Bowl player. He's got just one catch this year, but he's been able to find some more consistent work as a run blocker, too.

Asked about the biggest adjustment to the role, Carlson said, "The lead-type runs, the downhill runs. No. 28, he's not going to slow down at all, so just get on your horse, full speed, low pad level. Fullbacks are typically much shorter than tight ends, so it's focusing on pad level and just going."

If the Vikings sustained another injury at the spot, they might not be able to use a fullback as often as they normally would. Peterson hasn't been anywhere near as effective in two-back sets this year as he was last year -- he's been in a two-back set on 24 of his 44 carries, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and is averaging just 2.0 yards per carry in those situations -- but the running back still has more yards through his first two games in 2012.

Still, another injury to the Vikings' complement of blocking backs might lead them to open up their offense a little more, particularly in the wake of Frazier's call to get Cordarrelle Patterson more involved.

Here is the rest of the Vikings' injury report:
  • Center John Sullivan and defensive tackle Kevin Williams were both limited by knee injuries on Sunday, but are probable for Week 3.
  • Defensive tackle Fred Evans (shoulder), linebacker Erin Henderson (heel) and safety Harrison Smith (shoulder) returned to full participation on Friday after being limited during the first two practices of the week.
  • Tackle Phil Loadholt (knee), guard Brandon Fusco (shoulder) and safety Mistral Raymond (shoulder) are all probable for Sunday, despite being listed on the injury report.
  • Wide receiver Greg Jennings did not practice on Friday, but Frazier said Jennings was dealing with a personal matter and will play Sunday. Ellison is the only player who has been ruled out.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Vikings tight end Rhett Ellison missed practice for the second straight day on Thursday with a knee injury, and coach Leslie Frazier wasn't terribly optimistic Ellison would play Sunday.

"I think you have to approach it (like he won't play)," Frazier said. "He's gotten better, but we'll see how much he can do, or if he can do anything tomorrow."

Ellison has been the Vikings' primary blocking back for Adrian Peterson with Jerome Felton suspended for the first three games of the season, and if he's unable to play, the job would fall to rookie Zach Line, who was primarily a ball carrier in college and hadn't been a blocking back until he signed with the Vikings.

"He's done a good job in these first two games," Frazier said. "His snaps will probably go up a little bit because of Rhett's absence, but we've got some other ways we can get some things done. We'll see what happens with Rhett."

Linebacker Desmond Bishop, who could get more snaps on defense against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, could also see some action on special teams if Ellison is out. Bishop has been working on the Vikings' kickoff team this week, and either he or rookie Michael Mauti could play there against Cleveland.

Here is the rest of the Vikings' injury report:
Phil Taylor, Adrian PetersonGetty ImagesPhil Taylor and the thus-far stout Browns run defense gets a major test in Adrian Peterson.
A pair of teams desperate for their first victory square off in Minneapolis this weekend when the Minnesota Vikings host the Cleveland Browns.

The Vikings are coming off a last-second loss in Chicago, after which players were venting about the defensive call that led to the Bears’ touchdown with 10 seconds left. Minnesota goes from Minneapolis to London for a date with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Vikings are in dire need of some positive momentum.

The Browns, meanwhile, have scored just 16 points in a pair of losses, and already have made major changes. They will start Brian Hoyer at quarterback this weekend with starter Brandon Weeden out because of a thumb injury. Meanwhile, the Browns traded running back Trent Richardson on Wednesday, parting with their top playmaker in exchange for the Indianapolis Colts' 2014 first-round draft pick.

As the teams meet for the first time since 2009, ESPN.com Vikings reporter Ben Goessling and ESPN NFL Insider Matt Williamson break down the game:

Goessling: Matt, the last time these two teams faced each other, it was on opening day in 2009, Brady Quinn was under center for the Browns and Brett Favre was playing his first regular-season game in a Vikings uniform. How things have changed since then. The Vikings have their own quarterback issues -- Christian Ponder probably keeps his job for now after a solid second half in Chicago last week, though he’s in serious need of some consistency. With Hoyer at quarterback, Richardson gone to Indianapolis and Josh Gordon coming back from a suspension, what can we expect from the Browns’ offense?

Williamson: I was feeling optimistic about Cleveland's offense going into Week 3 with Gordon returning and the disaster at the right guard position seemingly resolved. But now Weeden is out and Hoyer is in. That doesn’t bother me nearly as much as the loss of Richardson, who should be the foundation of this offense as a runner and underrated receiver. I truly think the Colts got themselves a great young back. But that leaves the Browns in a very precarious situation in the backfield. It is going to be a long year on this side of the ball.

The Vikings had an outstanding rookie class in 2012 and made three picks in the first round of this latest draft. Although there are obvious concerns at the quarterback position, Minnesota has quietly established a fine young nucleus. What roles do you see for its three first-round picks for this game, as well as going forward in 2013?

Goessling: It’s interesting you bring that up, because Cordarrelle Patterson's role -- or perhaps his absence -- has been a big topic of conversation this week. He got only five snaps in the Vikings’ first game, and had just six as a receiver last Sunday, even after he ran the opening kickoff back 105 yards for a touchdown. He’s young, and raw, but he might also be one of the most dangerous players the Vikings can put on the field, aside from Adrian Peterson. Coach Leslie Frazier all but called for Patterson to be on the field more during his news conference Monday. The challenge for the Vikings is to either work him into their base offense or go to enough multiple-receiver sets that they can use him, but I don’t doubt we’ll see him more going forward.

That could be especially important considering how good the Browns have been against the run in their first two games. They’ve allowed just 59.5 yards per game -- how will they fare against Peterson this weekend?

Williamson: Well, facing Peterson is obviously the ultimate challenge, and his run blocking, including the tight ends and fullbacks, is quite good as well. But I am very impressed with the Browns’ run defense -- and it starts up front. I believe that Phil Taylor is on the verge of stardom; his battle with John Sullivan, an excellent center in his own right, in the middle of the formation, will be crucial for the success of Cleveland’s interior run defense. But the Browns also have very good size at outside linebacker and do a nice job containing the outside run; their second- and third-level defenders get to the ball carrier well.

I mentioned before that the right guard position has been a nightmare, but the Browns’ excellent set of offensive tackles, Joe Thomas and Mitchell Schwartz, also has struggled much more than would be expected against two formidable defenses. As you know, Jared Allen is still playing at a very high level. But as some might not know, Brian Robison is also excelling this year and Everson Griffen is a highly athletic and intriguing end, too. Could Minnesota’s defensive ends rule the day?

Goessling: They certainly could. They struggled in Week 1 in Detroit, as Matthew Stafford found Reggie Bush on a number of early screen passes before the rush could get home. But the Vikings put consistent pressure on Jay Cutler last week, and Allen caused a Cutler fumble that Robison returned 61 yards for a touchdown. The Vikings also have not played at home yet, which means they will have the advantage of the crowd disrupting the opposing offense’s snap count for the first time this year. Minnesota has enough issues on the back end of its defense that it needs a strong pass rush to cover up for some of those deficiencies, and if the defensive line can get to Hoyer, the Vikings should be able to slow the Browns down and win the game.

To close this up, what’s the biggest thing you think the Browns need to do to win the game? What kind of a shot will they have without Weeden and Richardson?

Williamson: I really don’t like Cleveland’s chances at all, but its defense could keep this game close and limit Peterson’s production. Of course, Ponder could have a very poor game, or the Browns could score on defense or special teams. But I can’t see their offense this week moving the football with any sort of consistency. As Cleveland's front office is doing, it is time to start looking toward next year.

 
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Vikings should head to Chicago with a relatively clean bill of health for their Week 2 game against the Bears.

All seven players on their injury report -- left tackle Phil Loadholt, linebackers Larry Dean and Erin Henderson, center John Sullivan, defensive tackle Kevin Williams, safety Mistral Raymond and cornerback Josh Robinson -- were listed as probable for Sunday's game. Sullivan, who bruised his left knee on a low block from Detroit's Ndamukong Suh on Sunday, was limited in practice and Williams did not practice because of a personal matter, but both players are expected to play Sunday.

That's good news for a Vikings team that got beat on both sides of the line of scrimmage last week in Detroit and is trying to win for just the second time in its last 12 NFC North road games. The Vikings haven't won in Chicago since 2007 and will need to break that streak Sunday to avoid an 0-2 start.

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