Artis Hicks (Rob Tringali/Getty)
Left tackle Artis Hicks practiced on a limited basis again Thursday, but his status for Sunday’s game against Dwight Freeney and the Colts might end up being a game-time decision.
There seem to be more questions than answers as it pertains to one of the more critical matchups Sunday, as the status of Artis Hicks remains in doubt.
Hicks, who was tabbed to replace the suspended Bryant McKinnie at left tackle, was limited in practice for a second straight day Thursday. He continues to wear a brace on his right elbow and, while head coach Brad Childress maintains that the injury isn’t too serious and that Hicks is making progress, he is far from a certainty to be in the starting lineup Sunday.
Even if Hicks was healthy, matching up all day with Indianapolis DE Dwight Freeney would be a tall order. But, trying to do so at less than 100 percent is not what the Vikings are looking for. If Hicks can’t go – and even if he can – the Vikings will need to have a Plan B ready. For now, that means Marcus Johnson, who replaced Hicks in the second half of Monday’s loss to Green Bay, and perhaps rookie Drew Radovich.
Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell praised Hick’s and Johnson’s performances against Packers DEs Cullen Jenkins and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila when pressed into action Monday night.
“I thought they both fought. I thought they both competed hard, and then Artis went down with his injury there. Then Marcus came in there and, for a guy that hasn’t had a lot of practice over on the left side, I thought he did a decent job. He competed. He fought,” Bevell said. “Did he win every battle over there? No, he didn’t win every one. There were times when he lost the battle but we were able to get the ball off or we ended up having some help over there for him. But to come in cold and play at a completely different position, I thought he did a good job.”
Hicks and Johnson didn’t give up any sacks. Instead, the only sack given up in the game came when Aaron Kampman ran a stunt and shifted inside to get to Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson.
This week, the Colts can bring pressure from either end as well. If Hicks can play, he will face Freeney. On right side of Minnesota’s offensive line, Ryan Cook will face Raheem Brock.
“They have great defensive ends. Those guys are flame-throwing defensive ends,” Bevell said. “They can bring it. They can rush up the field. They have great spin moves and counter moves. They can take their speed to a bull rush. I don’t think it’s something where you can just focus on one side. You have to focus on both sides and handle those matchups out there. Those are big matchups for us, and their inside guys, because of the effect their outside guys have, you can’t let those inside guys get a free run. Are we going to help them? Obviously you have to help them too, at times, but there are times where he’s going to have to be able to do it by himself. It’s just according to how the game plan works out.”
With McKinnie out for three more games, it would appear this is a problem that isn’t going to go away quickly and, faced with the prospect of starting the season 0-2 – a record that statistically says you don’t make the playoffs very often – it may be getting close to panic-button time for the Vikings.
As of now, Hicks is still slated to be the starter. The official injury report will be released later today. At that point, we’ll find out what sort of percentage will be applied to Hicks in terms of his ability to play.
More bad news for the Vikings is word coming out of Indianapolis that veteran center Jeff Saturday, who was expected to be out at least another week or two, has practiced the last two days and, barring any setbacks, will be in the lineup Sunday.
While Saturday may be available to play against the Vikings, the same doesn’t look as promising for TE Dallas Clark. He missed a second straight day of practice with a knee injury and will likely be forced to sit out Sunday’s game. Given his ability to stretch the seam deep down the field, not having to face him would be one less headache for defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier.
The Colts gave safety Bob Sanders the day off Thursday. Sanders has been battling injuries of own, but the day off of practice is being viewed more as a precaution than a necessity.
The Ravens re-signed kicker Steve Hauschka, who was in the Vikings training camp, to their practice squad. Hauschka was cut from the 53-man roster last week by Baltimore and re-signed to the practice squad. Don’t be surprised to see him back on the 53-man roster at some point because of the lack of kickoff strength of veteran kicker Matt Stover.
The Colts released starting DT Ed Johnson and veteran wide receiver Courtney Roby Thursday. Their spots on the roster were taken by DT La Juan Ramsey and rookie running back Justin Forsett.
The NFL is taking a pre-emptive strike as it dons it meteorological hat. The game between Baltimore and Houston scheduled for noon Sunday local time, has been pushed back to Monday night as the area braces for the arrival of Hurricane Ike.
The NFL Players Association has sent a letter to all 32 player representatives seeking permission to hire a search firm to help in the process of finding a replacement for the head of the NFLPA. The job came open when longtime union chief Gene Upshaw died unexpectedly last month. Former Viking Tony Richardson is a member of the internal search committee.