The Minnesota Vikings left their training camp home of Minnesota State University, Mankato for Cincinnati - two days before their first preseason game - to have joint practices with the Bengals. They did so with a battered roster as 10 players did not make the trip.
Head coach Mike Zimmer said that two of the players did not make the trip because of “family emergencies that happened (Tuesday).” He did not specify which players were missing for that reason, but did say they will probably meet up with the team later.
According to the Star Tribune, the players absent from the Vikings morning walk-through were wide receiver Jarius Wright; cornerbacks Terence Newman, Melvin White and Marcus Sherels; running back Jhurell Pressley; linebackers Eric Kendricks, Edmond Robinson and Brandon Watts; and defensive linemen Sharrif Floyd and Scott Crichton.
Pressley and Sherels were both participants in the team’s final practice in Mankato, while the others were forced to watch from the sidelines with injuries, so it is possible those two are the ones dealing with family emergencies and will likely rejoin the team later. Sherels’ brother Mike Sherels - linebackers coach at the University of Minnesota - was in the hospital recently, having a procedure done, though Marcus Sherels told Viking Update earlier this week that his brother was going to be fine. However, the University of Minnesota on Wednesday issued a statement saying that Mike needed "unexpected surgery" and was admitted to the hospital on Tuesday.
With so many players forced to miss time, these joint practices will be an ideal opportunity for a number of young players to step up and show the coaches what they have to offer. One of those players will be second-year cornerback Trae Waynes. He was the Vikings’ first-round pick in 2015, but got limited playing time on defense as a rookie.
Waynes sat behind Newman during the 2015 season and only received playing time because of injuries. Now, with Newman not making the trip to Cincinnati because of what defensive coordinator George Edwards called a “nagging injury,” Waynes has a great opportunity to throw his name into the pool of potential Week 1 starters.
“(Cincinnati has) got some good receivers. A.J. Green is a terrific receiver,” Zimmer said. “So it’ll be good for (Waynes). For 12 days and OTAs you’re going against the same guys. Now you get a chance to go against somebody that you don’t know, you haven’t studied. So, it’ll be good.
“He has gotten better at just about everything. So, he needs to continue to be closer to the receiver at the top of the route and things like that.”
Zimmer said that Waynes has looked good in training camp the last couple of weeks, but he doesn’t want to predetermine anything yet. He wants to see how Waynes continues to develop at these joint practices and through the preseason.
The young linebackers on the Vikings’ roster are also going to get plenty of opportunities to show the coaches what they have to offer. Kendricks, Robinson and Watts had been receiving reps with the first-, second- and third-team defenses, respectively, so there are plenty of reps up for grabs with them missing time.
“They’re going to get a chance to play a lot,” the head coach said. “Brothers, Audie Cole, all those guys will get a lot of reps. So, it’ll be fun.”
While most of the players recovering from injuries stayed back in Minnesota, it’s interesting that the Vikings brought along tight end Rhett Ellison, who has been on the physically unable to perform list for all of training camp.
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“He’s getting mostly field work,” Zimmer said of Ellison, “and we thought it would be better for him to get field work here, as opposed to up there.”
It’s never ideal to have so many players missing practice, especially so many players who contribute a lot on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. But if there is a bright side, it is that it’s still the preseason and they have plenty of time to get healthy. The coaches decided to keep them in Minnesota because they’ll be able to get better treatment there and they wouldn’t have practiced anyways.