John Sullivan, the longest tenured starter on the Minnesota Vikings’ offensive line, remained out of practice Monday, one week in advance of the team’s regular-season opener against the San Francisco 49ers.
Sullivan has missed the last three preseason games with back spasms and hasn’t practiced in that timeframe, either, but head coach Mike Zimmer said he wasn’t too concerned about Sullivan’s status at this point.
“He’s getting better every day so we might get him out here a little bit (Tuesday). We’ll see,” Zimmer said, adding later that he was “encouraged” with the progress Sullivan is making.
However, Zimmer wouldn’t commit to Sullivan being ready by next Monday night.
Veteran Joe Berger has filled is for Sullivan during his spasms.
“He’s doing good,” Zimmer said of Berger. “You know, these guys all get paid a lot of money to do this so we expect all these guys, when they get in there, to go.”
The Vikings have struggled to get a running game started during the preseason, averaging just 3.0 yards per carry without Adrian Peterson in the backfield. Peterson hasn’t played a preseason game since 2011, but he will return to the starting lineup for the first time since the 2014 season opener.
However, the pass protection with the first-team offensive line has been better during the limited preseason action it saw than it was last year. Left tackle Matt Kalil is feeling better and playing better, and the Vikings have placed more emphasis on pass protection this offseason.
“It was a point of emphasis that we had to get better. And actually throughout the preseason, Kalil has had a really good preseason,” Zimmer said. “He’s blocked his guys all the time. I think he got beat one time on a spin move or something, but for the most part Matt has really improved. I want him to take it to the game this week. So hopefully he’ll do that.”
With right tackle Phil Loadholt out for the season with a torn Achilles tendon and a relatively inexperienced cast of characters behind the starting five, the Vikings traded a sixth-round pick to the San Diego Chargers to acquire tackle Jeremiah Sirles, who played in two games last year, starting one.
“We watched him throughout the preseason, and we just felt like we needed some more people there,” Zimmer said. “So we obviously scoured all kinds of rosters throughout this, and he was a guy we kind of pinpointed.”
The Vikings were also without fullback Zach Line, who left practice Monday after stretching with a wrap on his left knee.
Nose tackle Shamar Stephen continued to work out on the side as he recovers from arthroscopic knee surgery.
Also missing practice was practice-squad linebacker Brian Peters.