Notebook: Barr doubtful, McKinnon out

The Vikings could be without two key rookie starters against the New York Jets on Sunday. Plus, Mike Zimmer explains the cold-weather advantage the Vikings have on their sideline and talks about the differing roles of the running backs.

Linebacker Anthony Barr could miss his first game as a pro after trying to play through a knee injury last week.

Barr, the Minnesota Vikings’ top pick in this year’s draft, played only 72 percent of the snaps last week before being pulled in the second half against the Carolina Panthers. Up until that point, he had been one of the most-used defenders in Mike Zimmer’s defense.

Barr hasn’t practiced all week and is listed as doubtful for Sunday’s game against the New York Jets. Last week, he missed Wednesday’s practice but had practiced fully on Thursday and Friday.

Gerald Hodges, a 2013 fourth-round draft choice, would start in Barr’s place.

“The coaches have me preparing all week, getting ready to go out there,” Hodges said Friday. “I just continue to get (mentally prepared), continue to study, continue to get the plays right, continue to study the film of those guys so I’ll be able to go out there prepared.”

The Vikings will be without rookie running back Jerick McKinnon, who had worked his way into the starting lineup five weeks after Minnesota lost star running back Adrian Peterson for the season while he dealt with his legal issues and ensuing suspension from the NFL.

McKinnon, dealing with a lower back injury that made him inactive last week for the first time this season, didn’t practice at all this week and was declared out for Sunday’s game.

McKinnon is the Vikings’ leading rusher, carrying the ball 113 times for 538 yards (a 4.8-yard average). He also has 27 catches for 135 yards.

In addition to Barr, the Vikings also listed reserve cornerback Jabari Price (hamstring) as doubtful. All others on the injury report – TE Rhett Ellison (ankle), DT Sharrif Floyd (knee), TE Chase Ford (hamstring/foot) and TE Kyle Rudolph (abdomen/groin) – are probable, meaning they are a “virtual certainty” to play.

The Jets declared TE Jace Amaro (concussion) and DL Muhammed Wilkerson (turf toe) as out. The rest of the players on their injury report – TE Jeff Cumberland (illness), K Nick Folk (right hip), WR Jeremy Kerley (illness), WR Greg Salas (hamstring) DB Josh Thomas (illness), OL Willie Colon (shoulder/knee) and RB Chris Johnson (knee) – are probable.

Zimmer said temperature readings taken at TCF Bank Stadium last Sunday showed the Vikings’ sideline was 20 degrees warmer than the Panthers’ sideline. In the previous two games, it was 15 and 17 degrees warmer.

After studying the conditions at the University of Minnesota’s stadium earlier this year, the Vikings elected to take the north sideline for the season, rather than the south sideline that the Gophers use. With the NFL season extending into December, that proved to be a wise choice.

“The players thanked me for being on that side a couple of times,” Zimmer said. “We knew it would be big, because we did the temperature study, the sun, the wind, the whole bit. I’d be lying if I said I knew it was going to be 20 degrees (difference), but we did know it was going to be better on that sideline.”

The Vikings have continued to practice inside this week despite having their new outdoor practice-field heating system in place for two weeks. Zimmer said he had some concerns with player safety after examining the practice field.

“I’m nervous about the sideline. It needs to be a little bit wider,” he said. “They’ve been having a couple issues with it. (Wednesday) night there was a seam in it. … We get good work in (the fieldhouse) and it’s cold, but I don’t want to get anybody hurt out there.”

As QB Teddy Bridgewater improves on getting the ball out quicker, the Vikings have also placed an emphasis on improving their blitz pickups from the running backs. Last week, Joe Banyard’s chances on offense ended in the first half when he failed to pick up a protection.

“That’s important for the backs,” Zimmer said. “It’s not just carrying the football, it’s making sure when we are throwing the ball that they’re protecting the right guys so we can get the ball off.”

With McKinnon out with injury against the Panthers, Matt Asiata received 75 percent of the snaps at running back, with Ben Tate getting 15 percent and Banyard getting 10 percent.

“He’s great with the protections,” Zimmer said of Asiata. “I think he hits the holes quick and I think he runs behind his pads well. He continually gets yards after contract.

“I think he’s the most experienced protector of the bunch right now.”

Over the last five games, Bridgewater has been sacked 10 times. In the three weeks prior to that stretch, he was sacked 19 times.

“Over the last five weeks we’ve cut down our sacks dramatically, we’ve not turned the ball over,” offensive coordinator Norv Turner said. “Some of those aren’t protection issues, there are other issues. I think we just tried to manage the situation we have as well as we can, create some runs so people have to play us honestly.”

Tate saw his first action with the Vikings last week against the Panthers and ran five times for 15 yards, but Vikings coaches have stressed ball security after seeing him run last week.

“He was a little bit loose with the ball; we’ve got to fix that,” Turner said. “Because that’s what I’m saying, the best things we’re doing right now, is we’re not turning the ball over, we’ve gotten better in protection and when we have opportunities we’re making the most out of them.”

Zimmer agreed with Turner’s assessment of Tate and said the coaches have worked on that with him this week.

“We’ve been talking to him this week about making sure he’s high and tight and put the ball away,” Zimmer said. “He didn’t fumble or anything like that, but it’s just a little loose away from his body. We’ve been protecting the ball very well for quite a while really. We had one fumble last week and Teddy got back on it. But our ball security has been good, so that helps.”

Tate, claimed off waivers from the Cleveland Browns on Nov. 19, was active in his first game with the Vikings after only having a few days of practice, but he didn’t play.

Last week, he played seven snaps.

“I think he’s getting much better with” understanding the offense, Zimmer said. “When he first came in it was obviously limited, but I feel pretty good about him now.”

  • Although Charles Johnson has started the last two weeks over Cordarrelle Patterson, Zimmer said Patterson is doing better in practices lately.

    “Cordarrelle’s had a good week of practice. He’s busting his rear end,” Zimmer said. “He’s doing everything good, so I’m hopeful that he does some good things in this game.”

  • While QB Geno Smith is expected to start for the Jets, the Vikings having prepared some for Michael Vick, too. The two present a stark contrast for a defense, despite both of them being able to run well.

    “It’s big because one’s right-handed and one’s left-handed,” Zimmer said. “The offense is pretty similar in a lot of ways. They do so many things – sometimes they’ll have two quarterbacks in the game at one time, all kinds of different personnel groups. I think the plays are very similar so sometimes it’s right versus left.”

  • Zimmer has said in the past that he watched quite a bit of Buddy Ryan’s defenses with the Chicago Bears in the 1980s, but the evolution of defenses means that Buddy’s son, Rex, the head coach with the Jets, doesn’t run similar schemes, even if their personalities are similar.

    “The aggressive nature, how he preaches defense,” is similar, Zimmer said. “Defensively, they’re different because of the times.

    “I like Rex. He’s a good guy. I like defensive coaches in general. Offensive guys usually try to cheat a lot. We play by the rules. … Norv was pretty good. There’s some guys, though, they’re always looking for an edge.”

  • Zimmer said he hasn’t followed Adrian Peterson’s situation too closely lately. Peterson’s hearing to appeal his suspension for the rest of the 2014 season was this week, but a decision isn’t expected until next week.

    “I heard there was a hearing. Other than that, I don’t know,” Zimmer said. “I’m so busy watching film trying to figure out the Jets.”

  • Viking Update Top Stories