Bye Week Means Healing Time

The Vikings would rather have a bye in the middle of the season, but since they are so banged up it only makes sense to use the time to rest and heal. That's the way several players we talked to are looking at the situation, and they are looking forward to who can play coming out of the off week.

When the 2004 NFL schedule was released, some Vikings winced. How, some thought, would a bye after just three games affect the team.

The thinking made sense. What team needs a bye after just three games of a 16-game season? The answer: The Minnesota Vikings.

The Vikings are doing a little wincing of a different variety now. With an overloaded training room filled with players — including eight starters — rehabilitating injuries, the Vikings are limping into the bye.

Consider the team's injury list: Tackle Mike Rosenthal, tight end Jimmy Kleinsasser and cornerback Ken Irvin are all out for the season. Running back Michael Bennett, tight end Jermaine Wiggins, receiver Marcus Robinson, linebackers Chris Claiborne and E.J. Henderson are all expected to return sooner than later, some as soon as Oct. 10 at Houston.

With an injury list taller than Bryant McKinnie, who at 6-8 is the tallest player at Winter Park, the Vikings proudly put out the welcome mat for the bye week that arrives in Week 4.

"Nobody's getting hurt this week so that's good," safety Brian Russell said. "This week, everybody's getting (healthy)."

This is the third time the Vikings have had their bye week as early as Week 3 (1993, 2000). They have had a bye as late as Week 11 (1999). Most teams prefer a weekend off near mid-season.

"You always like the bye in Week 8 or somewhere in the middle of the season," cornerback Antoine Winfield said. "But we have some guys banged up so it'll give them a week to recover."

Who would've thought?

"Looking at the bye when the schedule first came out, you thought we'd need it later, but obviously we need it now," Russell said. "It's a good fortune in disguise."

Russell chose to remain optimistic. Even though the Vikings should use Band-Aids as their team logo, they enter the bye week 2-1. Despite missing eight starters because of injuries and another (Kenny Mixon) because of a two-game suspension, the Vikings remain a favorite to win the NFC North Division.

So maybe, Russell theorizes, if the team is battling a rash of injuries right now they might be a perfect picture of healthy by mid-December.

"Injuries are going to happen, the key is to stay in tip-top shape," Russell said. "When you play on turf and bang around as much as we do, injuries are going to happen.

"We've had our injuries at key positions. … We've played with some significant injuries. The flip side is some injuries have come early so we should get those guys back."

  • Robinson already has declared himself 100 percent for the next game. After missing most of the second half against the Bears because of leg cramps, Robinson said he is fine. "It was a cramp, but it was on the leg that I hurt (in preseason)," he said. "I'm alright."

  • Birk has a high ankle sprain and said Thursday he plans to play on Oct. 10.

  • After predicting he'd return in Week 2, then again in Week 3, Bennett is virtually certain to make his 2004 debut next weekend at Houston.

    The timing of his return couldn't be better, considering Onterrio Smith's hearing on his four-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy is scheduled for Tuesday. Vikings officials are hoping for a reduced sentence, but realistically expect Smith to miss four games. His probable return would be Nov. 8 (Monday night) at Indianapolis.

  • Henderson sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee, which he has done before, so he is expected back sooner than initially expected. If all goes well he could even play Oct. 10.

  • Claiborne sprained his left calf against Chicago and isn't expected to play Oct. 10, but should return by Oct. 17.

    Rather than fret over the injury list, Vikings players say they'll plow forward.

    "You really can't predict injuries," Winfield said. "This is a violent game. Injuries hit all the teams in the league. We're just taking it week by week."

    And this weekend, that means rest and relaxation — two things Vikings players plan to spend much of their time doing this weekend.

    "Injuries play a big part of the season," Gus Frerotte said. "Hopefully we'll come [out of the bye] and do well."

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