Vikings fans may have reservations about their team's performance Friday night, but it will be mostly a reserve lineup in Thursday's preseason finale. That is due, in part, to the nature of the fourth preseason game but in several instances players will sit because of injuries.
Last year, the Vikings finished the season without Chris Cook, Antoine Winfield, Husain Abdullah and Tyrell Johnson on injured reserve. Their defensive backfield is nearly as banged up to end the 2012 preseason, although it's not as many frontline players and the injuries aren't as serious.
"At this point, the injuries don't seem to be ones that will hinder the guys that are injured from playing in that first (regular-season) game, so we need to get through this one in the same fashion," head coach Leslie Frazier said. "We'll figure something out to get through it."
Rookie cornerback Josh Robinson (concussion) and veteran cornerback Chris Carr (lower back spasms) – who are expected to be the third and fourth cornerbacks in the game when the regular season starts – were both held out of Sunday's practice after suffering injuries in Friday night's loss to the San Diego Chargers in the third preseason game. Robinson won't play and Carr doesn't seem likely to play, either.
That was theme after Sunday's practice, as Frazier said most of the healthy starters aren't likely to see action in the preseason finale, including quarterback Christian Ponder. Joe Webb will get the start and the order and playing time between Sage Rosenfels and McLeod Bethel-Thompson is still being determined.
In addition to the injuries to Robinson and Carr at cornerback, reserve Marcus Sherels (ankle) was held out of practice, further limiting the cornerback corps.
The safety position was a little better, but Mistral Raymond, who may have ended up the starter in the regular season, wasn't practicing Sunday because of lower back spasms that caused the Vikings to make him a pregame inactive Friday night. Reserve safety Andrew Sendejo (ankle) joined Raymond as practice observers.
"We're going to mix and match, whatever we've got to do to get through that game," Frazier said. "Hopefully we can get through it without any other injuries."
However, the Vikings did get several players back on the practice field who were out, including defensive back Robert Blanton, who had been dealing with a hamstring injury that kept him out of the first three preseason games. Blanton practiced last week but didn't play, and Sunday he was even part of the Vikings' nickel defense, moving down to cover the slot receiver with two other safeties on the field, showing his versatility as a cornerback during his Notre Dame days.
Because of the issues at safety and the missed time for Blanton, he will get the start and play most of the preseason finale.
"That is the plan. We are going to play him quite a bit," Frazier said. "That's one of the reasons we held him out in that last game. We wanted to give him an extended look in this final preseason game. We do plan on starting him and playing him for quite a while so we can properly evaluate him. He's missed a lot of time."
Another former Notre Dame product, tight end John Carlson, also returned to practice with a brace on his right knee after missing the first three preseason games because of a sprained medial collateral ligament. He was immediately working with the first-team offense.
"He moved around pretty good. It's good to see him back out with his teammates and I'm encouraged by the fact that he was out there," Frazier said. "We think if he can just keep making progress throughout this week he should be fine when we are getting ready for game week."
Carlson, who signed a five-year, $25 million free-agent deal with the Vikings in March, won't play in the preseason finale.
Tight end Rhett Ellison, who received increased playing time in the first three games with Carlson out, was also on the field despite dealing with knee pain that was detected during Friday night's game.
Cornerback Chris Cook returned to practice for the first time after suffering a concussion nine days ago against the Buffalo Bills, but the Vikings will proceed cautiously and keep him out of action Thursday.
Eric Frampton, who suffered a groin strain that caused him to miss the end of the Chargers game, was on the practice field taking reps at safety.
Others returning to practice were defensive tackle Letroy Guion, linebacker Larry Dean, and offensive tackle DeMarcus Love.
Guion isn't expected to play after he suffered a setback with his knee injury when he tried to come back to practice last week. An MRI showed no structural damage.
Fullback Ryan D'Imperio (shoulder) also was not practicing.
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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