Tyrell Johnson (Steven Bisig/US Presswire)
The Vikings’ defensive backs continue to leave games with injuries, with another potentially season-ending injury on Sunday. The second and third levels of the depth chart are being tested and reconfigured.
The Vikings secondary is getting more depleted by the week as injuries continue to take their toll on a pass defense that is already ranked 29th in the NFL.
Cedric Griffin entered the season as the biggest question mark in the secondary after having knee surgery each of the last two years to repair his two anterior cruciate ligaments. Now Griffin is more like the last man standing in a battle of attrition.
Antoine Winfield headed to injured reserve after suffering a fractured scapula in a Nov. 14 game against the Green Bay Packers, and Chris Cook still hasn’t as much as practiced since being arrested for felony domestic assault on Oct. 22.
How bad has it gotten in the Vikings secondary? Asher Allen, who started the season with a toe injury and was expected to be the dime back, was viewed as the team’s top cover cornerback for the last two weeks – and now he is back on the injury report.
“It was tough, really tough. Ash has really become a guy we were counting on a great deal to match up with other people’s top receiver and then to lose him as early as we did, it really puts you in a little bit of a bind,” said Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, who was a starting cornerback with the 1985 Bears team that won the Super Bowl.
Allen suffered a sprained AC joint in his shoulder in the first quarter of Sunday’s loss to the Atlanta Falcons, which further exposed the team’s woes in the defensive backfield. Benny Sapp, who was signed less than two weeks ago, moved from playing in the slot in the nickel defense to becoming essentially a starting cornerback, despite spending nine weeks out of the league after being released from the Miami Dolphins following their Week 1 loss.
Allen will be day-to-day, according to Frazier, but the injuries and frustration continue to mount in the secondary.
“A lot of that is what he can tolerate. We'll see how he does as the week goes on,” Frazier said of Allen.
Allen’s injury means that three of the Vikings’ top four cornerbacks will likely be inactive against the Denver Broncos on Sunday, and the injury woes don’t stop with the cornerbacks.
Safety Tyrell Johnson, who entered training camp with a chance to recapture his starting safety spot, was filling in for Husain Abdullah for the second straight game, but Johnson pulled up with a “significant” injury to his right hamstring early in the second quarter and might be lost for the rest of the season.
Frazier said Johnson’s injury “is under evaluation that is probably going to require him being not able to perform for a while. We will know more as the week goes on.”
Abdullah suffered his second concussion of the season against the Green Bay Packers on Nov. 14 and hasn’t played the last two weeks.
“We’re still evaluating Husain Abdullah with his concussion and we will know a little bit more in the days to come,” Frazier said. “But we will have to make a decision regarding him as well.”
If Allen and Abdullah aren’t able to play Sunday, it would mean five of the Vikings’ top seven defensive backs would be out with injury or legal issues. Griffin still doesn’t seem to have the explosiveness he possessed prior to the two knee surgeries and another starter, starting safety Jamarca Sanford, missed one game with a concussion and has been on the injury report with a shoulder issue.
“It was a little scary in that game yesterday. You start going, ‘This guy goes down, what's the next step?' But the guys who were out there playing – Marcus Sherels, Benny, Cedric – I thought they fought hard,” Frazier said. “(Rookie safety Mistral Raymond), of course, got a ton of reps. And Jamarca was in there. It's a young group of safeties. And when you consider the amount of time Benny has played this year, but they battled, but they still had a chance in that fourth quarter. That's what you hope for every week you play.”
Frazier said after Sunday’s loss the defensive backs were effective “at times, but it’s not the ideal situation.”
In addition to the injuries in the defensive backfield, the Vikings lost long snapper Cullen Loeffler to a lower back injury and he is likely done for the season. Receiver Michael Jenkins suffered a knee injury, the severity of which isn’t known, and running back Adrian Peterson will continue to have his high ankle sprain monitored throughout the week after missing 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.