The laundry list of missing starters may seem long, but the Minnesota Vikings are expecting a nearly full pallet of players available for the regular-season opener Sept. 9.
Head coach Leslie Frazier said Christian Ponder and most of the starters would be sitting out the preseason finale Thursday night in Houston, but his lineup is further limited because of injuries. The good news for Frazier and the rest of the organization is that most of those injuries – some of them to starters and others to first-line backups – are expected to be in the past by the time the team begins preparations next week for the regular-season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
This week, many of those starters will be on R&R – rest and rehabilitation.
"Depending on how these practices go on this short week, we'll determine whether or not we play any starters," Frazier said after Sunday's practice.
On offense, the Vikings have been without starting tight end John Carlson, who returned to practice on a limited basis with a brace on his right knee, and running back Adrian Peterson throughout the preseason. The Vikings announced last week that Peterson, who had surgery to repair torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments on Dec. 30, would be held out for the remainder of the preseason with the hope that he can start taking contact in practice as preparation to ease back into game action when the regular season begins.
Carlson, who sprained the MCL in his right knee five days into training camp, on Sunday made his first practice appearance in more than three weeks.
"He moved around pretty good. It's good to see him back out there with his teammates and I'm encouraged by the fact that he's back out there," Frazier said. "We think if he can just keep making progress throughout this week he should be fine to be ready for game week. It was good to have him back."
When training camp opened, free-agent acquisition Geoff Schwartz was expected to compete for the starting spot at right guard, but he had sports hernia surgery on Aug. 7 and hasn't been able to practice since. It's uncertain if the Vikings will be able to count on him as a rotational backup for the regular-season opener, prompting them to consider keeping an additional offensive lineman for at least the first week or two of the regular season.
"That's definitely something we're going to talk about and we have talked about with Geoff because of all the time that he's missed," Frazier said. "We're going to see how he progresses this week. The fact that he was moving around today and moving around as well as he was gives us some hope that next week he'll be able to practice."
While the availability of Peterson, Carlson and Schwartz is dependent on how they look in their return to practice, the Vikings know they will be without receiver Jerome Simpson for the first three games of season because of a suspension after violating the league's substance abuse policy.
Defensively, the Vikings are also expected to get some starters back by the regular-season opener.
Defensive tackle Letroy Guion re-aggravated a knee injury last week, but the Vikings will proceed cautiously with him this week. He practiced Sunday but isn't expected to play Thursday.
"I don't think we'll put him out there. When he had the little incident a week ago, just felt like we need to give him a little bit more time and keep bringing him along and hopefully next week when we start preparing for Jacksonville, he's able to go through everything that he has to go through to prepare for the game," Frazier said.
The back end of the defense has seen more injuries than the front four. Starting cornerback Chris Cook suffered a concussion in the second week of the preseason and didn't play Friday. Although he returned to practice Sunday, he isn't expected to play in the preseason finale.
"Probably not, coming off a concussion and a short week," Frazier said. "But it's good to see him out here practicing now and we want him to practice throughout the week and get back in the football mode a little bit but we probably wouldn't put him out there Thursday night.
Rookie cornerback Josh Robinson (concussion) and veteran cornerback Chris Carr (lower back), who are both expected to be regular contributors on defense, are likely in the same category if the Vikings have enough cornerbacks to get through Thursday's game.
Safety Mistral Raymond, a likely starter, was held out Friday after experiencing lower back pain during pregame warm-ups, but he might still end up starting against Jacksonville on Sept. 9, despite him expected to miss half the preseason.
"It's possible. We'll see what happens with the guys that end up playing," Frazier said. "But he did some good things when he did start but still have to talk that through, whether or not he's going to be the starter when we line up against Jacksonville."
That means a handful of starters won't play Thursday night because of injury – and most of the other starters won't play because of a coach's decision – yet each of the injured starters is probable when the regular season opens in less than two weeks.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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