NFL Nation: Harrison Smith

MINNEAPOLIS -- As the Minnesota Vikings' safeties learn a defense that should bring much more variety to their roles than they had in the team's old scheme, a group of them is also auditioning for a role alongside Harrison Smith in the Vikings' starting lineup.

Coleman
Blanton
The Vikings have been rotating a number of safeties through their first-team defense during organized team activities, with Jamarca Sanford and Andrew Sendejo sitting out with injuries. Kurt Coleman, Robert Blanton, Brandan Bishop and rookie Antone Exum have all gotten plenty of work in OTAs, and the Vikings figure to use a number of combinations next week during their minicamp. Coach Mike Zimmer said that the Vikings will likely run through more drills like they did on Thursday, when they had safeties working at something closer to game speed, without as much direction from coaches in between plays.

"I think we'll get a little bit better feel of how it goes the more of this stuff like we did today, where the coaches aren't out there helping them, 'Hey, move this way, move that way. Line up here, line up there,'" Zimmer said at the Vikings' charity golf tournament. "When all the things happen and they have to make adjustments and checks because those guys are a lot like the quarterbacks for the defense when they get back there."

In the Vikings' old Cover 2 scheme, safety was a relatively staid position. The team used a defensive back to rush the passer on just 46 snaps last season, which was the sixth fewest in the NFL. The Cincinnati Bengals, under Zimmer, sent a defensive back after the quarterback on 76 snaps, the 15th most in the league, and Smith said he expects a more diverse set of responsibilities in the Vikings' new defense. Defensive backs coach Jerry Gray has talked about how he'd like to be able to use safeties in man coverage, and even the Vikings' zone coverages will have safeties working more aggressively to eliminate space from receivers, so much so that some of the zones will look like man coverage to the naked eye, Smith said.

"The safeties get to do a lot more, whether it's in coverage, sometimes being the free guy, being able to go make a play on the ball, coming down in the box, getting involved in the run game, blitzing," he said. "You really get to do it all."

That means there's more to be gained from finding the right player to go next to Smith. The competition will get even thicker once Sanford and Sendejo are healthy, but it stands to reason the Vikings will take their opportunities to see a number of different safeties, especially when they'll ask them to be a more dynamic part of their defense.

"Harrison's a smart guy," Zimmer said. "Kurt Coleman's doing a good job. Robert Blanton's doing a good job. We've got a lot of guys who are continually working at those spots. We're just trying to get them in the right position where we can get them to go play."
MINNEAPOLIS -- Jerry Gray spent the 2010 season as the defensive backs coach for a Seattle Seahawks team that made the playoffs with a dubious honor, becoming the first team in NFL history to make the playoffs with a losing record after winning the NFC West at 7-9.

One of Gray's tasks that season was to develop the two safeties the Seahawks had taken in that year's draft -- Earl Thomas, whom the team drafted in the first round, and Kam Chancellor, the Seahawks' fifth-round pick. Four years later, the Seahawks are the world champions, thanks in no small part to Thomas and Chancellor, who might form the best safety duo in the NFL.

[+] EnlargeHarrison Smith
AP Photo/Joe RobbinsThe Vikings are counting on Harrison Smith to be an integral part of their new defense.
And Gray is now in Minnesota, working with a player who could put his name in the same sentence as the Seahawks' duo by the end of this season.

"I think you'll see him as one of the top safeties in the league," Gray said. "Him and Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas, they were all drafted around the same time, and now they're going to be in there about the same time. That's a sentence you want to be in, if you're Harrison."

If a turf toe injury slowed Harrison Smith's progress toward becoming one of the game's best safeties last season, his role in the Vikings' new defense could accelerate it this year. The Vikings have big plans for Smith in Mike Zimmer's new scheme, which should give the 25-year-old a more active role than he had in the Vikings' old Cover-2 defense.

"We're going to get him more involved," Gray said. "He'll be blitzing some. He'll be covering some. He'll be in the middle of the field. The thing that we're trying to do right now is, figure out what he's best at, and then put him in that position. Can he be one of the better safeties in the league, doing what we're teaching him here?"

As many Vikings players are doing during the team's voluntary minicamp this week, Smith is trying to digest a new scheme as quickly as he can. That process has been helped, Smith said, by doing film work with a focus on correcting small technique issues, which Zimmer has been drilling in the Vikings' first practices as a team.

"On film sometimes you can see my toe coming up, which means I'm on my heel," Smith said. "So that just means I need to put more weight on my toes. Small things like that that will give you a fraction of a second out of your break and maybe get an interception instead of a [pass defended] or make a play I wouldn't have made."

Smith has the speed and instincts to cover receivers, which could be a bigger part of his role than it ever was in a Cover-2 defense. If he's able to play man coverage on an inside receiver, the Vikings can spend more time in their base defense and keep an extra linebacker on the field for run situations, instead of shifting to their nickel package and giving up some size in the middle of the field.

"Now, people say, 'What am I going to do? I can't run it, because they've got their big guys in. I can't throw it, because their safety can cover my No. 2,'" Gray said. "That's really what Seattle does a lot. They keep their base out there, Earl Thomas goes down to cover No. 2, and then they put Kam in the middle. You don't want to run against Kam, you can't throw it against Earl, and now you make the best of both worlds. Hopefully we can get our guys to understand that concept."

The Vikings still need to see how well Smith can handle a broader role, but he's already shown flashes of becoming a star in his first two years in the league, returning two of his three interceptions for touchdowns as a rookie and picking off a pair of passes in just eight games last season.

Now, if a new scheme turns him loose, Smith could find himself on a short list of the league's elite.

"He's not afraid to go up in run support. He understands what leverage is. He understands all those things," Gray said. "With the second day [of minicamp], he's trying to figure out, 'Where do I fit in? What do I do here?' When you get past responsibility, and let talent take over, I think he'll be one of the best."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- It's a predictable rite of coaching changes in the NFL: The new guy comes in, usually more (or less) of a disciplinarian or a player's coach than the last guy, and players talk about how the new atmosphere in the building is exactly what they needed.

With that in mind, we're not going to make any sweeping pronouncements from the second day of the Vikings' voluntary minicamp about whether the differences in Mike Zimmer's style from Leslie Frazier's will ultimately help the team win more games this season. There's a danger in trying to assign too much significance into anything that happens when players are in shorts and prohibited from hitting each other, so we'll try to err on the side of caution there.

[+] EnlargeMike Zimmer
AP Photo/Johnny VyVikings coach Mike Zimmer is showing in minicamp that he's going to be active during practices in 2014.
That said, it was clear from what players said on Wednesday -- and what Zimmer modeled in practice -- just how much of a departure Zimmer's working style will represent from Frazier's. While Frazier preferred to run practices like a CEO, floating around the field, making broad observations about his team and letting his position coaches and coordinators do much of the hands-on work, Zimmer was there in the middle of defensive backs drills with secondary coach Jerry Gray on Wednesday, firing instructions at players on when to break on certain routes.

His leadership style figures to evolve in time, as he settles into the role of being a head coach, but in his first on-field work with players Zimmer clearly was trying to establish a different tone -- to the point where defensive end Brian Robison and safety Harrison Smith said they'd never seen a head coach as involved in day-to-day work as Zimmer has been.

"We’ve always had head coaches sit in meetings, but they’ve never really talked a whole lot," Robison said. "It’s been about the defensive coordinator. Whereas Zimmer is, he’s stepping up, he’s running the meetings most of the time, going through the defensive calls. Pretty much, he’s been the defensive coordinator. It’s that type of deal. And that’s taking nothing away from [defensive coordinator George] Edwards; obviously he does a lot of stuff, too, with us. In a way, I like that. You want to see a coach, a head coach, coaching and you want to see him take it upon himself to make sure that everybody’s doing the right thing and that’s what you see at practice.

"We’re out here and he’s actually grabbing guys and he’s showing them what to do, how to use their hands, how to do their footwork. And a lot of times you don’t get that, a lot of times you have head coaches kind of sit back and let their coaches do the work. Whereas he is taking it upon himself to make sure that every single person is doing the right thing.”

The key for Zimmer, at some point, will be incorporating more work with the offense into his daily routine; he spent much of the winter working with the Vikings' defense, and said on Wednesday he's been "straying over to the defense a little bit," adding he ran a meeting with the defensive backs earlier in the day. He's got the luxury of having a veteran offensive coordinator in Norv Turner, but Zimmer has also said he wants to be the head coach, not just the defensive coach, so he'll probably start to balance his responsibilities more at some point.

What seems clear, though, is that Zimmer will be more hands-on in practice than Frazier was, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. Time will tell if he needs to delegate more to his coaches, but as he talked about it on Wednesday, it was clear Zimmer hadn't lost the charge he got from his days running drills as a position coach.

"I think I’m fairly good at it, and so I’m going to try to use my abilities as best I can," he said. "I get around the offense as much as I can, but at this stage I just feel like I have to spend more time with the defense. I have to be in the meetings and run the meetings, actually, you know, coach. I have to coach. That’s what I am: I’m a coach. And so just because I’m the head coach doesn’t mean stop coaching. It means you coach everything, but you still do the best job you can to get guys better.”
MINNEAPOLIS -- The fact that the Minnesota Vikings head into the 2014 season in need of secondary help should come as no surprise -- not for a team that allowed the most passing touchdowns, the second-most passing yards and the most points in the NFL last season. What might be more startling is just how long the Vikings have had a blighted secondary, and how unable they've been to alleviate at least some of the problem through a favorite method of some of their rivals.

The last time the Vikings had a player intercept more than four passes in a season was 2005, when Darren Sharper marked his migration from Green Bay to Minnesota with a nine-interception, two-touchdown season in just 14 games. Since then, the Vikings have intercepted just 104 passes -- the third-fewest in the league, according to ESPN Stats & Information -- and have been unable to use turnovers to mask the league-worst 30,875 passing yards they've allowed.

[+] EnlargeJustin Gilbert
J.P. Wilson/Icon SMIThe Vikings could turn to Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert in the draft as a solution to their turnover problem.
The Packers and Chicago Bears haven't been much better, allowing the 15th- and 11th-most passing yards since 2006, but unlike the Vikings, they've had secondaries able to stop drives with turnovers. Green Bay's 178 interceptions are the most in the league since 2006, followed by Chicago's 159. In fact, the three teams with the most interceptions since 2006 -- the Packers, Bears and New England Patriots -- all rank in the bottom 15 of yards allowed, and the Packers and Patriots have given up the 5th- and 12th-most touchdown passes, respectively (the Vikings have allowed the third-most).

What can change the Vikings' long-running turnover drought? New coach Mike Zimmer's defensive scheme won't necessarily accomplish it naturally; the Cincinnati Bengals tied for 16th in interceptions since Zimmer took over in 2008, though they did pick off 23 more passes than the Vikings in that time. A Minnesota defense that ranked even in the middle of the league in takeaways would be a major improvement.

Safety Harrison Smith has shown signs of being a ballhawk -- he tied for the team lead in interceptions as a rookie (with three), brought two of them back for touchdowns and posted two more interceptions in just eight games last season. Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn also returned his last four interceptions with the Carolina Panthers for touchdowns. Though cornerback Xavier Rhodes doesn't have a NFL interception after posting only eight in three years at Florida State, he's got the height and leaping ability to take passes away from receivers.

But the Vikings' lack of takeaways are part of the reason a player such as Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert could make so much sense in the draft, particularly if Minnesota trades back from the eighth pick. Gilbert had seven interceptions last season for the Cowboys, bringing two back for touchdowns, and has both the closing speed and vertical leap to create turnovers. Putting him opposite Rhodes, with Munnerlyn in the slot, would give the Vikings a nice setup for years to come: two physical corners and a heady slot corner, all with Smith playing behind them. That kind of a secondary would have enough big-play ability that a rise in takeaways would seem likely, along with a decrease in porous pass coverage.

That was particularly evident last season when opponents tried to stretch the Vikings deep; they allowed a league-worst 14 touchdowns on passes that traveled 15 yards or more last season, according to ESPN Stats &Information, while intercepting just six passes. Those long-traveling passes can naturally turn into interceptions, and it's probably no coincidence that five of the nine teams that picked off the most deep passes -- including the Bengals -- went to the playoffs last year. Even if the Vikings' secondary isn't completely airtight next season, turnovers can be a salve, as the Kansas City Chiefs proved; they allowed 11 touchdowns of 15 yards or more, but intercepted 10 such passes on their way to an 11-5 record.

As the Vikings assess their secondary needs, finding a way to create more turnovers is certainly worth their consideration, especially when some of the teams around them have been so effective at using them to paper over some of their own flaws.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings offered former Philadelphia Eagles safety Kurt Coleman a contract after meeting with the free agent on Wednesday and Thursday, according to a league source, but Coleman is still weighing his options.

The Vikings confirmed Coleman's free-agent visit on Friday morning, which meant the safety had left the facility without a contract.

Coleman had met with several teams, and arrived in the Twin Cities on Wednesday to begin his visit with the Vikings. However, the contract offer wasn't enough to get him to pull the trigger on a deal on Friday. The Vikings and Coleman could still circle back to one another and come to an agreement at some point.

The former seventh-round pick started 27 games between 2011 and 2012 for the Eagles, but was bumped out of a starting job last season. If he were to sign with the Vikings at some point, he'd likely come in as a special-teams contributor and a backup at both safety spots, where he'd compete with Jamarca Sanford and Andrew Sendejo for playing time at one of them.

Kurt Coleman visiting Vikings

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MINNEAPOLIS -- Former Philadelphia Eagles safety Kurt Coleman flew to the Twin Cities on Wednesday to begin a free-agent visit with the Minnesota Vikings, as ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported. Coleman will continue his visit with the Vikings on Thursday, and if the Vikings like what they see, they could add Coleman to what already looks like a crowded safety position.

Coleman didn't start in 2013 for the Eagles after making 27 combined starts in 2011 and 2012. He struggled in run support, especially in 2012, missing 15 tackles that season, according to Pro Football Focus. Coleman had two interceptions in 2012, and four in 2011, but mostly played special teams in 2013. He saw his most playing time on defense in the Eagles' 48-30 loss to the Vikings on Dec. 15, playing 27 snaps at safety.

He'd likely come in as a backup safety and a contributor on special teams, but while Harrison Smith likely has one safety spot locked down, Jamarca Sanford and Andrew Sendejo can make no such claim at the other spot. Both played well at times last season, but Sanford will be a free agent next spring after taking a pay cut this year, and Sendejo was solely a special-teams player until injuries forced him into the lineup last year. If the Vikings were to sign Coleman -- heading into a training camp where a new coaching staff figures to invite plenty of competition -- it's conceivable he could fight for playing time.

Coleman had visited the Indianapolis Colts last week, but left without signing a contract. Now, he and the Vikings will discuss whether they might make a good match.
MINNEAPOLIS -- A year ago this week, the Minnesota Vikings cut veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield, making Chris Cook the senior member of a secondary the team was gambling could work without a proven veteran in the group. Cook was entering his fourth season and seemed to take the charge of extra responsibility seriously; he went back to school at the University of Virginia over the summer, working toward his degree and making sure to stay out of trouble, and came to training camp proclaiming he was ready to have the kind of breakout season that would lead to a long-term contract.

Cook
Cook is on his way out of Minnesota a year later, heading to the San Francisco 49ers on a one-year contract, closing a disappointing chapter of the Vikings' struggles to stock their secondary through the draft. They spent a second-round pick on Cook in 2010, only to see him get suspended for the second half of the 2011 season as he battled a domestic assault charge, struggle with injuries throughout his career and fail to make plays on the ball. His 29 starts without an interception are the second most by a defensive back in NFL history, and his most memorable moments of the 2013 season came on plays he was in position to make but couldn't close out -- such as the touchdown Alshon Jeffery caught over the top of Cook's head on Dec. 1, running almost five yards holding the ball just above Cook's helmet. The cornerback stuck an arm back toward Jeffery, but never turned his head to locate the ball, and was subsequently ejected for making contact with an official, whom Cook argued should have called pass interference two plays before.

Cook is 6-foot-2 and has the size and speed to match up against big receivers, which is why the 49ers are spending a low-risk deal on the chance they can turn him around. But he exits Minnesota as the latest cornerback not to make it after being taken early in the draft. Xavier Rhodes, one of the Vikings' three 2013 first-rounders, looks as though he can play, but 2012 third-rounder Josh Robinson still has much to prove. Cook was a second-rounder in 2010, and 2009 third-rounder Asher Allen was gone after starting 21 games in three seasons. Marcus McCauley, a third-round pick in 2007, washed out of Minnesota after two seasons, and while 2006 second-rounder Cedric Griffin looked as though he'd turn into a solid cornerback, two torn ACLs ended his career. Griffen and 2002 fourth-rounder Brian Williams are the only two Vikings draft picks to start more than three years at cornerback in the last 12 years.

Rhodes has a chance to reverse that trend, and while the Vikings have had plenty of trouble pinning down safeties, Harrison Smith looks like a star on the rise heading into his third season. But the Vikings' inability to stock one of the league's most important positions stands out as a major black mark on their recent draft history. Cook's ignominious exit from Minnesota is only the latest example of it.

Kiper's Mock 3.0: Vikings

March, 13, 2014
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The Minnesota Vikings have the eighth overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft, after finishing 5-10-1 in 2014.

While they're in need of a quarterback for the future, they might have bought themselves a little time last week, when they re-signed Matt Cassel to a two-year, $10.5 million deal. Cassel figures to head into the season as the starting quarterback unless he's beat out by a rookie. But if the Vikings can't get one of the top quarterbacks with the eighth overall pick, they could conceivably wait until the second or third rounds to take a QB, rather than reaching for one in the first round.

Instead, a cornerback such as Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert or Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard could make sense with the eighth overall pick, particularly if the Vikings don't sign a proven corner in free agency. If Minnesota could pair another young corner with second-year cornerback Xavier Rhodes and third-year safety Harrison Smith, it'd have a secondary to build on for quite some time.

It's also conceivable the Vikings could look for a linebacker in the first round of the draft, possibly pursuing someone who could bring a dose of physicality to their defense. Buffalo's Khalil Mack might be gone by the time the Vikings pick, but someone such as UCLA's Anthony Barr or Alabama's C.J. Mosley could make sense for Minnesota.

Check out Mel Kiper's Mock Draft 3.0 in a few hours to see which players he thinks the Vikings should target with the eighth pick.
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
Peterson
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.

Peterson
Peterson
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:

Upon Further Review: Vikings Week 15

December, 16, 2013
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MINNEAPOLIS -- A review of four hot issues following the Minnesota Vikings' 48-30 win over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday:

Cassel starts again: Coach Leslie Frazier said after Sunday's game there are "no questions" about the Vikings' starting quarterback for next Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals after Matt Cassel threw for 382 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another one. That means, at most, Josh Freeman will get one more chance to play this season, and at this point it seems highly unlikely that will happen. What's probably more interesting now is what happens between the two quarterbacks the Vikings have under contract for next season -- Cassel and Christian Ponder. Cassel can opt out of his deal after this season, but if the Vikings draft another quarterback next spring, they might be well-served by keeping Cassel and letting him start the season until -- or unless -- the rookie is ready.

Wright
Wright emerges: Second-year receiver Jarius Wright, who had been a forgotten man after a solid second half in 2012, had his biggest game of the season on Sunday, catching four passes for 95 yards. Wright began the season as the Vikings' third receiver before becoming their fourth option in recent weeks as Cordarrelle Patterson's role in the offense grew. But Wright hauled in a 42-yard pass from Cassel on Sunday, and looked like the kind of downfield slot threat he was at times last season.

Patterson shut out on kickoffs: The Eagles went into Sunday's game clearly wanting to avoid Patterson on kickoffs, but the Vikings might take the alternative; Philadelphia's short kicks helped Minnesota start four drives at its own 30 or better after kickoffs, and though the Vikings didn't get a chance to let Patterson break a big return, they got more consistent field position than even the rookie returning dynamo likely would've been able to provide. Frazier said the Vikings could toy with the idea of putting Patterson on punt returns next week, simply as another way to get the ball in his hands.

Thin secondary survives: The Vikings were missing their top three corners -- Chris Cook, Xavier Rhodes and Josh Robinson -- on Sunday, but they held up reasonably well against an Eagles offense most expected to burn Minnesota's thin secondary. Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles threw for 428 yards, but had only 144 at halftime and got many of his second-half yards after the Vikings had built a big lead. Cornerback Shaun Prater had the first interception of his career, and safety Harrison Smith returned from a two-month layoff to post eight tackles in his first game back from turf toe. Cook, meanwhile, missed Sunday's game after a knee injury cropped up late in the week. His frequent injuries could prevent him from landing a big contract when he hits the open market next March. And while Prater got his first pick on Sunday, Cook is still waiting for his, four years into his career.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings hadn't made a decision on Adrian Peterson or Toby Gerhart's status as of Saturday afternoon, according to a source with knowledge of the situation, and it's possible the team will work out one or both injured running backs before Sunday's game against the Philadelphia Eagles. But of the several roster moves the Vikings made on Saturday afternoon, one could be an indicator they're expecting they could be thin at running back.

They activated running back Joe Banyard from the practice squad, giving them two healthy running backs before Sunday's game. The Vikings typically have three running backs (Peterson, Gerhart and Matt Asiata) and a fullback (Jerome Felton) active on game days, and in a worst-case scenario, they'd at least have Asiata and Banyard on Sunday.

Peterson and Gerhart both did some light work on Friday, and coach Leslie Frazier was particularly encouraged by how Peterson -- who sprained his right foot last Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens -- looked in practice on Friday. He said Peterson's gait looked good, adding the reigning NFL MVP was able to run and cut in some of the things the Vikings asked him to do. Peterson also said he felt he could manage his current level of pain in a game, but it remains to be seen whether the Vikings will risk further injury to Peterson as they're 3-9-1 and eliminated from the playoffs.

Gerhart, who replaced Peterson and strained his right hamstring on a 41-yard touchdown run last Sunday, said he felt good on Friday, though Frazier said the Vikings hadn't seen if Gerhart could accelerate quickly yet.

If the Vikings were left with Asiata and Banyard, they'd have the same running back tandem they did in their final preseason game. Asiata ran for 32 yards and a touchdown that night, while Banyard surpassed 100 rushing and receiving yards. The Vikings also signed diminutive running back Bradley Randle -- who had been with them in training camp -- to their practice squad this week.

As expected, the Vikings activated safety Harrison Smith from injured reserve on Saturday, and put cornerback Josh Robinson on IR to make room for Smith. Robinson, who has a fractured sternum, will see his season end after struggling early in the year as Antoine Winfield's replacement at slot cornerback.

The Vikings also signed cornerback Robert Steeples from their practice squad for some extra secondary depth with Xavier Rhodes doubtful and Chris Cook questionable for Sunday's game, and waived tackle Mike Remmers.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Both Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart were taking part in light drills in the portion of Friday's Minnesota Vikings practice open to the media, but it was too soon to tell if either would be able to play Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Peterson
Peterson
Coach Leslie Frazier said this week that the Vikings wanted to see if Peterson, who suffered a mid-foot sprain on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens, could run and cut effectively on his injured right foot. He was more optimistic about Gerhart being able to play with a strained hamstring, saying the Vikings just "need to see him burst a little bit." Depending on how they looked, Frazier said the Vikings could possibly wait until Sunday before declaring Peterson or Gerhart out.

It appears the Vikings won't have cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who wasn't practicing because of a sprained ankle on Friday. Nor will they have tight end John Carlson, who didn't have a helmet and hasn't been cleared to return from a concussion. That will mean the Vikings' only tight ends are Rhett Ellison and Chase Ford, and at cornerback, they'll be down to Chris Cook, Marcus Sherels and Shaun Prater, in addition to safety Robert Blanton, who could see some time at slot cornerback once again. Safety Harrison Smith looks on track to return from turf toe and be activated from injured reserve, but the Vikings aren't sure how many snaps they'll be able to give him after a two-month layoff.

We should know something more definitive on Peterson and Gerhart within the hour, when Frazier speaks to reporters.
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.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- What seemed like a virtual certainty all week is now official: Matt Cassel will start at quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday in Baltimore, with Christian Ponder out for the game because of the concussion he sustained last Sunday against the Chicago Bears.

Ponder still has not passed the NFL's concussion protocol, and hasn't been able to practice all week. He worked out on Friday without a helmet, but will still need to clear the concussion test to put himself in the mix to play on Dec. 15 against the Philadelphia Eagles.

For Sunday, Cassel will start, with Josh Freeman backing him up. Ponder is one of three players the Vikings ruled out for the game, along with cornerback Josh Robinson (fractured sternum) and tight end Kyle Rudolph (fractured foot).

Running back Adrian Peterson got some light work on Friday, and will play Sunday with his strained groin. Coach Leslie Frazier said the Vikings will likely have to limit Peterson's practice time the rest of the year because of the injury; they have held him out of Wednesday and Thursday practices for the past three weeks before practicing him on Friday.

"It's similar to what we had to do a year ago, when he had a similar injury [a sports hernia] in the month of December," Frazier said. "We'll have to manage it through the rest of the regular season."

Frazier also said wide receiver Greg Childs practiced for a third straight day on Friday, as he tries to recover from two torn patellar tendons in time to be activated off the physically unable to perform list by next week's deadline and possibly see game action for the first time since he was injured in August 2012. And safety Harrison Smith is still on track to return from injured reserve next week and play against the Eagles after missing two months with turf toe.

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