Vikings' next move: Who will protect Ponder?

John Sullivan (Tom Dahlin/Viking Update)

The Vikings made their quarterback switch official, but four of their five starting offensive linemen are dealing with injuries. Two of those injured players could end up questionable for Sunday's game.

The Vikings will have a new starting quarterback and could have a couple new starting offensive linemen when they face the Green Bay Packers Sunday at Mall of America Field.

The first change is at the discretion of Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, who promoted rookie Christian Ponder to be the team's starting quarterback over Donovan McNabb. The changes on the offensive line could be forced upon the Vikings because of injuries.

Starting right tackle Phil Loadholt missed the second half of the Sunday night game because of swelling and tendinitis in his knee, and starting center John Sullivan left during the first series of the second half when he was hit by Chicago LB Lance Briggs and suffered a concussion.

"We're a little banged up," Frazier said, then offering litany of injuries on the offensive line. "With Phil Loadholt, the situation being questionable, we'll have to see how he progresses over the week. (Left tackle) Charlie Johnson has been a little banged up and so is (left guard Steve) Hutchinson a little bit. With Sullivan's concussion, he'll still probably be day to day right up until Friday on what his availability will be.

Veteran center Joe Berger, acquired after the regular-season opener, replaced Sullivan on Sunday. Pat Brown, a second-year pro out of Central Florida, took over for Loadholt in the second half.

"We'll have to juggle some parts and get guys ready to play. They understand it's next man up," Frazier said. "Guys that get in, they have to play and play well. What they're doing front wise on defense in Green Bay creates some issues for your offense and your offensive line in particular. So we have to be on it when it comes to studying and getting a feel for their defensive front."

Receiver Percy Harvin also missed practice because of a rib injury that has been bothering him to varying degrees since the first week of training camp. The injury was aggravated against the Arizona Cardinals on Oct. 9 and he appeared to be in pain during the Vikings' loss to the Chicago Bears on Sunday night.

Safety Jamarca Sanford was also held out of practice because of a concussion. Tyrell Johnson would likely start in his place.

The injury news wasn't all bad. CB Antoine Winfield returned to practice on a limited basis for the first time since Sept. 30 after suffering a neck injury at some point against the Kansas City Chiefs. Winfield played that entire game but woke up with a stiff neck on Oct. 3 and hasn't played the last two games.

Getting Winfield's veteran presence back in the lineup would be a big boost considering the Vikings' opponent on Sunday, the Green Bay Packers, has a propensity toward three- and four-receiver sets that test the depth of opposing secondaries. With Cedric Griffin's struggles last week, it is possible second-year cornerback Chris Cook might even start opposite Winfield.

"We're going to see how Antoine does, if he's able to practice today, and then we'll make a determination maybe later in the week, what we think he can do from a rep standpoint and then we'll make that decision," Frazier said.

Frazier said two weeks ago there was no structural damage to Winfield's neck.

Winfield was among the three Vikings limited at Wednesday's practice, joining MLB E.J. Henderson because of persistent knee soreness and reserve LB Kenny Onatolu because of a hamstring injury. Hutchinson was also added to the injury report because of swelling in the knee, but he was a full participant in Wednesday's practice.

"Hutch's knee was a little sore from the game. He had a little bit of swelling, but he should be fine," Frazier said. "We just have to monitor that."

Johnson has been dealing with a triceps injury but wasn't listed on the injury report and is expected to continue to play through it.

Frazier said he wasn't planning on any starter changes not related to injury, but he indicated that some of the reserves could start receiving more rotational time on the field.

PACKERS REPORT

The Packers aren't without their injury concerns either. Tackle Chad Clifton (knee/hamstring), DE Mike Neal (knee) and LB Frank Zombo (knee) have all been declared out already.

LB Clay Matthews (quadriceps) was among a contingent of four players that didn't practice Wednesday, including LB Jamari Lattimore (shoulder), CB Sam Shields (concussion) and G Josh Sitton (knee).

S Morgan Burnett (hand) and CB Charles Woodson (foot/knee) were limited, and TE Andrew Quarless (knee) was a full participant.

None of the Packers' injury is expected to keep them out of Sunday's game.


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.


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