The Minnesota Vikings will play without middle linebacker Erin Henderson this weekend, giving Audie Cole his first career start instead.
Henderson has missed practice all week due to an unspecified personal matter, and coach Leslie Frazier on Friday ruled the team's leading tackler out of the game at Green Bay. Cole, a seventh-round draft pick last year, was cut for a few days earlier this month in favor of depth at another position and brought back for the last game at Seattle.
So here he is, about to be in the starting lineup at Lambeau Field.
"Pumped," Cole said, adding: "I'm excited for my opportunity to get to go out and do what I've been waiting for, for a year and a half now."
Another starter, defensive end Brian Robison, was listed as questionable for Sunday because of a muscle spasm in his neck that prevented him from taking part in practice Friday.
With Jared Allen and Everson Griffen, the Vikings have only two other defensive ends on the active roster. Defensive tackle Letroy Guion will be back after missing the last two weeks because of a chest injury, so at least they'll have a deeper rotation in the middle.
The Vikings had better news on the other side of the ball. Running back Adrian Peterson returned to practice on a limited basis after sitting out the last two days to rest his sore groin. He's listed as questionable, along with wide receiver Greg Jennings (Achilles) and center John Sullivan (concussion), who also returned to practice on a limited basis. All three are expected to play. Jennings didn't play last week at Seattle.
For Cole, patience paid off.
He was told the team's plan for him prior to being released on Nov. 7, so Kevin Murphy could be elevated from the practice squad as insurance at offensive tackle with Phil Loadholt still recovering from a concussion for the game against Washington. Sure enough, two days later, Cole was back on the active roster.
"It's still not cool. It's not what you want to happen," Cole said. "I understand why they did it. Someone had to go. I wish it wasn't me, but it was. You've just got to take it. I came back, and things have been going good for me lately."
His backup will be rookie Michael Mauti, a fellow seventh-round pick. Mauti had some swelling in his left knee, on which he had reconstructive surgery as a senior at Penn State. His third anterior cruciate ligament injury in a five-year span caused him to slip down the draft board.
Mauti has excelled on special teams with 10 tackles, third most on the team. He shrugged off the suggestion that his recent minor injury was bad timing, given the opening created by Henderson's absence. He said he's sure he'll get plenty of playing time.
"You can't control what happens to you in a football game. I know that better than anybody," he said. "But I'm not going to be limited Sunday, so that's really all that matters."
TOLZIEN TO JOIN SELECT COMPANY
Quarterback Scott Tolzien is set to join select company on Sunday.
Tolzien will become the first Green Bay quarterback other than Brett Favre or Aaron Rodgers to start back-to-back games since Don Majkowski started the first three games of the 1992 season.
Coach Mike McCarthy has named Tolzien, a former practice squad player, the starter for Sunday's game. Rodgers, sidelined with a collarbone injury, was ruled out on Friday.
Rodgers, who has missed the last two games, hasn't practiced this week. He has otherwise had a durable nine-year career in Green Bay, following the equally dependable Favre.
The quarterback situation has been less stable for the rest of the NFC North. According to STATS, the Lions have had 18 different quarterbacks start consecutive games since 1992, while the Bears and the Vikings have each had 21.
The Packers have lost three straight since Rodgers got hurt Nov. 4 during the first series of a 27-20 loss to Chicago.
"All of us want him playing. But at the same time, you don't make excuses," Tolzien said this week. "It's what we have in the locker room and you make the most of it, plain and simple, and you go from there."
PACKERS SECONDARY THIN
Green Bay has four of its seven cornerbacks on an extensive injury report this week.
Casey Hayward remains out with a hamstring injury. After missing the last game with a bad hamstring, Sam Shields is questionable for Sunday's game. And rookie Micah Hyde didn't practice the last two days because of a groin injury, though he is probable.
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