Injuries and suspensions have the Vikings once again shuffling their lineup as they prepare to face a diverse Carolina Panthers offense, but there is a piece of potentially good news for their lineup. Cornerback Antoine Winfield, out for the last three games because of a neck injury, could be returning to action Sunday.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said the next few days will determine how much, if any, the Vikings can use their 13-year veteran cornerback against the Panthers’ fifth-ranked passing attack.
Winfield practiced on a limited basis Wednesday, going through individual drills and taking some reps during 7-on-7 work, but he admitted that with a neck injury, Thursday's full-pads practice will be key to determining his availability Sunday.
“I’m excited about it, just to see where I’m at," Winfield said after Wednesday's practice. "It’s been three-and-half weeks. It’s gotten a lot better. Got my range of motion, so heading in the right direction.”
The physical cornerback hurt his neck making a tackle on Kansas City Chiefs running back Dexter McCluster on Oct. 2, and Winfield said it was more than a strain. He had a magnetic resonance imaging test last Thursday that showed the damage had been cleared up, but the real test will be how much contact he can sustain on Thursday.
“My style of play, I love contact. I love to hit. The neck is very important to me," he said with a smile. "If it was my shoulder or maybe my foot, I’d be out there playing.”
Minnesota is already short one cornerback since they suspended Chris Cook after he was charged with felony domestic assault on Tuesday.
“The fact that he will be suspended from our team really lets you know how concerned we are about what happened,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said.
On the field, Cook’s suspension and Winfield’s injury will make it more difficult to defend Steve Smith, a receiver who has had a lot of success against Minnesota in the past.
"That makes it a little tenuous. Where (Winfield) is determines who's up, who's down. Playing without one of our guys, yeah it makes a difference,” Frazier said. “But as good as Green Bay's quarterback played on Sunday, I thought our guys did some good things along the way. It just tells me they are going to be ready when we line up this Sunday against Carolina, whoever we end up playing with.”
The performance that will live in Vikings infamy was Smith’s 11-catch, 201-yard day against Minnesota in 2005 that included the receiver mimicking the Vikings boat scandal from two weeks earlier as part of his touchdown/boat-rowing celebration after burning former cornerback Fred Smoot. But that was far from his only success against the Vikings. In 2009, Smith caught nine passes for 157 yards, both season highs for him, against the Vikings. In 2008, he had four catches for 70 yards against Minnesota.
If Winfield can’t play Sunday, Asher Allen will continue to fill in as a starting cornerback opposite Cedric Griffin. The Vikings were without two of their top three cornerbacks against Green Bay and allowed 335 yards passing to Aaron Rodgers.
While Winfield will be monitored throughout the week, safety Jamarca Sanford and center John Sullivan, both recovering from concussions suffered in Chicago Oct. 16, practiced fully, and so did safety Husain Addullah, who was also added the injury report with a concussion.
“We'll just monitor their progress over the course of the week,” Frazier said Sanford and Sullivan.
Receiver Percy Harvin (ribs) will likely be limited during the week, but Frazier said he is expecting Harvin to play on Sunday.
“We’ll try to get him out there tomorrow and put pads on him to see how he handles some contact, but he feels better so we’ll see,” Frazier said.
Harvin attended Wednesday’s practice but didn’t participate, and the same held true with Adrian Peterson, who sprained an ankle in Sunday’s game but returned to action. Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe (foot) was also held out.
Right guard Anthony Herrera isn’t likely to play and wasn’t at practice. He has a lateral collateral ligament injury and is expected to be listed as doubtful.
Linebacker Erin Henderson also wasn’t at practice, but it wasn't injury related. He was in the locker room about an hour before practice.
DT Remi Ayodele (ankle), LB E.J. Henderson (knee), DE Brian Robison (shoulder) and Winfield (neck) were all limted.
For the Panthers, CB Darius Butler (not injured) and CB Jordan Pugh (head) didn't practice. LB Omar Gaither (knee) was limited.
ROSTER EXEMPTION FOR COOK
Frazier said the Vikings were seeking an exemption for Chris Cook, but since he was placed on the reserve/suspended list, he can be replaced on the 53-man roster, according to an NFL spokesman. The Vikings had only 52 players on their active roster practicing on Tuesday, including WR Stephen Burton, who was promoted from the practice squad after the team released Bernard Berrian.
Beyond the roster issue, Frazier reiterated the organization’s concern over the details of the strangulation allegations against Cook.
“It is something that we are highly concerned about and very disturbed about and any matter that affects our team in a light that we don't feel is a positive light, we are going to address those situations as soon as we can,” Frazier said. “We've done that in this case. There could be other things forthcoming as we go forward.”
The Vikings added former USC guard Butch Lewis and former Arizona State WR Kerry Taylor to the practice squad after promoting Stephen Burton and terminating the contract of DL Cedric McKinley
Christian Ponder on his six-shooter TD celebration: "I think it was more a Shooter McGavin/Happy Gilmore deal."
Ponder was asked if he had to earn the trust of coaches in order to throw downfield as often as he did in Sunday’s game. "I think it's because I have a rocket arm,” he said with a laugh. Some analysts questioned Ponder’s arm strength during the offseason evaluation process, but he showed that isn’t an issue.
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.