Antoine Winfield (Scott Boehm/Getty)
The Vikings are taking it slow and cautious with Antoine Winfield’s neck injury, but they are encouraged that no structural damage showed up the MRI. Meanwhile, questions still linger about center John Sullivan and punter Chris Kluwe.
The Vikings are still holding out hope that cornerback Antoine Winfield (neck), center John Sullivan (ankle) and punter Chris Kluwe (hamstring) will all be able to play Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals, but they are making varying levels of progress as the week evolves.
Winfield is likely the biggest concern, given that it’s a neck injury. Despite the fact that a magnetic resonance imaging test came back negative for any structural damage, head coach Leslie Frazier indicated the team would be cautious in its approach.
“Until he feels comfortable enough to say, ‘You know what? I’m ready to get out there and try,’ nobody’s going to urge him to do anything other than what he thinks he’s capable of doing,” Frazier said.
Winfield got hurt Sunday making a tackle and returned to Winter Park with a stiff neck on Monday. He hasn’t practiced at all this week, but Frazier is holding out hope that he can practice some on Friday. If not, Winfield’s availability will be a game-time decision.
Frazier said they don’t believe it will be a season-ending injury.
“From everything I’ve been told, there’s some soreness, stiffness, but that should dissipate over time, but nothing that it’d be a season-ending injury,” Frazier said.
“There is something that’s creating the stiffness in his neck, and anytime you’re dealing with neck, of course you’re very cautious. He’s getting a little bit better, so we’ll just see how he’s feeling tomorrow.”
If Winfield can’t play Sunday, Chris Cook likely would step into the starting role at left cornerback and Asher Allen would then become the nickel defensive back. Despite Frazier saying Allen had a good two days of practice, the head coach is well aware of the difference between Winfield and Allen.
“Antoine, he’s a hard guy to replace. He does so many things for us. Even that play that he got injured on, he’s making a tackle that a lot of other guys in the secondary might not be able to make in our league,” Frazier said. “The first play of the game they ran to his side and I was surprised they did and he tackles the back in the backfield, blows up the tackle for a loss or a zero gain. It’s hard to replace that at the corner position, but you’ll have someone in there who will do a good job, but it’s not Antoine Winfield.”
With a Cardinals offense that likes to use three receivers, the loss of Winfield could be jolting to the defense. While Winfield is solid in coverage, he is also valuable when the Vikings go their nickel defense and Winfield slides inside and lines up across from the slot receiver, where he is closer to the quarterback and can blitz.
“That’s what Antoine does. I have known Antoine for a long time and since high school I have known him to make plays like that,” said defensive coordinator Fred Pagac, who also coached Winfield when the two of them were at Ohio State. “He is not very big, but he is physical. He has great quickness and great football awareness.”
Sullivan, who battled calf injuries last year that caused him to miss two games, played most of the season while dealing with that discomfort so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him out on the field Sunday making his 35th start. He had his left ankle taped during Thursday’s practice.
“Did pretty good, a little ginger still with that ankle,” Frazier said.
Frazier is hoping to get Kluwe back to punting on Friday. Kluwe said he expects to start on Sunday and downplayed his hamstring injury. Just in case, the Vikings brought in former Lions punter Nick Harris for a workout on Tuesday.
Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer indicated Harris’ veteran status could make him the favorite if Kluwe can’t play Sunday. The Vikings also had left-footed punter Chris Jones in a for a tryout last week, but that was mainly to get returner Marcus Sherel comfortable handing the different rotation on punts from off the left foot of the Chiefs’ Dustin Colquitt. Arizona’s Dave Zastudil is also left-footed.
Given Kluwe position as a punter, the Vikings can afford to wait until Friday or Saturday before making a decision on a temporary roster move to fill in for him if necessary.
If needed, Christian Ponder could be the holder for field goals if Kluwe is inactive.
While Winfield and Kluwe remained out of practice and Sullivan returned on a limited basis, S Husain Abdullah (pelvis), LB E.J. Henderson (knee), T Charlie Johnson (elbow) and S Jamarca Sanford (knee) remained limited.
For the Cardinals, TE Jim Dray (pectoral), P Dave Zastudil (knee) and TE Todd Heap (hamstring) did not practice. WR Early Doucet (hamstring), CB A.J. Jefferson (ankle), LB Joey Porter (knee), C Lyle Sendlein (elbow) and RB Beanie Wells (hamstring) remained limited. CB Michael Adams (wrist) returned to full participation after being limited Wednesday, and WR Chansi Stuckey (hamstring) became limited Thursday after participating fully on Wednesday.
The Arizona Cardinals returned 400 tickets for the Vikings game on Sunday, so more tickets are available at TicketMaster.com for those interested. The game will still be televised locally after the Vikings old their allotment by the Thursday noon deadline.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.