Chris Cook (Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY)
The Vikings secondary hasn’t started the same four players for more than three straight games and they are likely to get the seventh version of the season on Sunday. Plus, get an update on the injury situation, Jerome Simpson’s comments about an official and more.
The Vikings have had seven different combinations of starters in their secondary this season, and that’s just looking at the two safety and two base cornerbacks. The dynamics become even more muddled with a fifth (nickel) cornerback entering the equation.
It’s likely to undergo an eighth version this Sunday if Chris Cook returns to the lineup with either Marcus Sherels or Shaun Prater returning to a backup role and Harrison Smith re-entering the lineup as a starter.
Smith was expected to be eased back into the lineup on a rotational basis after missing the previous eight games with a severe case of turf toe. He didn’t start Sunday, but he ended up playing 61 of 69 defensive snaps.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier admitted Smith played “a lot more” than anticipated in his debut since he was put on injured reserve/designated for return following his foot injury on Oct. 13.
“We asked him after each series, especially the type of offense (the Eagles) were running, ‘How do you feel? What do you think?’ He wanted to go back out there. He did good. He did a great job,” Frazier said.
Smith tied for the team lead in tackles with eight and his value was immediately felt.
“I thought Harrison’s presence made a big difference. He’s such a calming influence on our entire defense, and our secondary in particular,” Frazier said. “There are so many things he does that don’t show up in the stat sheet. Just his moving around, being in position and discouraging quarterbacks by just his movement sometimes where he’s bluffing like he might be coming on a blitz or showing where he might be in the box may discourage run and all of a sudden he’s back in a half-field position. So his presence helps us all so it was great to have him back.”
Smith comprised one-fourth of the original base secondary at the start of the season, along with fellow safety Jamarca Sanford and cornerbacks Josh Robinson and Chris Cook.
Robinson was placed on season-ending injured reserve on Saturday after he wasn’t making enough progress in his comeback from a fractured sternum. With a badly depleted secondary, the Vikings needed help immediately and promoted CB Robert Steeples from the practice squad to take Robinson’s spot.
“We needed to get some other guys up and he’s one of the guys that we didn’t think was going to make it back, where initially we were hoping that he would. It wasn’t going to work out,” Frazier said.
Cook has started 10 games over three different stretches this year, but injuries continue to derail his career. It started with a groin injury to start the season that lasted until early October. Then it was a hip injury in late October that lasted until early November. Then it was a hamstring injury in mid-November and finally a knee injury this month.
Those injuries have caused him to miss four games, the latest being Sunday’s game after breaking on a route in Friday’s practice and suffering a bone bruise.
“A big part of what we do is availability. You can have talent but if you’re not available, that kind of negates everything that you’re trying to get done as a player and it really makes it tough for your teammates as well,” Frazier said. “I know he’s trying to get out there. He’s trying do the best he can to help our team. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to help you in this last ballgame. Fortunately for us, we had some guys who stepped up and played well for us.”
Cook’s injury opened the door for Shaun Prater to be the fifth cornerback to start in the base defense. Prater ended up playing all 69 defensive snaps, as did Marcus Sherels, who started the season as the fourth cornerback on the roster.
The combination of Robinson, Cook, Smith and Sanford has started four games. Robinson, Sherels Smith and Sendejo started one game. Robinson, Cook, Sendejo and Sanford started three games. Robinson, Rhodes, Sendejo and Mistral Raymond started two games. Rhodes, Cook, Sendejo and Sanford started three games. And, finally, Prater, Sherels, Sendejo and Sanford started Sunday.
The Vikings were also short at running back Sunday with Adrian Peterson out with a sprained foot and Toby Gerhart out with a hamstring strain. Frazier expected both of them back for practice at some point this week and available for Sunday’s game in Cincinnati.
“I think most guys will be back. I don’t think, off the top of my head, anybody is in jeopardy,” Frazier said.
The Vikings promoted RB Joe Banyard to the 53-man roster on Saturday and he played five snaps on offense, although he didn’t carry the ball at all. He was waived on Monday with the expectation of Peterson and Gerhart’s return.
Rhodes, with a sprained ankle, is the only injury that Frazier wasn’t sure would be able to practice on Wednesday.
TE John Carlson is making progress in passing the various stages of the NFL’s post-concussion protocol after sitting out Sunday and G Brandon Fusco (knee) could return as well.
Long snapper Cullen Loeffler is expected to be fine after having his left hand stepped on in Sunday’s game, leaving it cut and bruised and causing him to miss one snap for a punt. DE Jared Allen filled in for that turn.
Frazier said he talked with WR Jerome Simpson after seeing his comments about an official in Sunday’s game. Simpson said the official had some “questionable things” to say to players. Simpson said it was the same official that called him for taunting.
“I think we got that cleared up and hopefully we won’t experience that in the next couple ballgames,” Frazier said.
“After hearing the conversation, it’s much more than it needed to be. I don’t think it’ll come to a whole lot. We’ll see.”
The Vikings are 0-6-1 on the road this season and have their final game away from the Metrodome Sunday in Cincinnati.
“It’s been emphasized. We want to win this final road game. It’s important,” Frazier said. “It’s the next game on our schedule, and we are going to emphasize (winning on the road).”
Prior to the Monday night game, NFL games averaged 703.2 yards of offense in 2013, on pace to break the single-season record of 694.4 from last year.
Denver leads the league with 453.4 yards per game but still trails the NFL record of 467.1 yards per game by the 2011 New Orleans Saints.
The Eagles average 414 yards per game, in second place, with Detroit (the Vikings’ final opponent of the season) in third at 409.6.
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.