Smoot, a free-agent signee from Washington, began camp on the physically unable to perform list because of a neck injury. Two days after returning from that injury, Smoot suffered what the Vikings termed, "a soft tissue contusion" to his right knee during an Aug. 9 intra-squad scrimmage.
The Vikings became concerned when Smoot's knee continued to bother him and sent him to the Twin Cities for a magnetic resonance imaging exam early last week. Much to Vikings' and Smoot's relief, the MRI confirmed what the training staff had diagnosed.
"I was worried because that's stuff you never know about until they actually look at it," he said. "I was scared. I didn't want any setbacks."
Smoot's return should mean that all five of the defensive starters the Vikings acquired during the offseason will be on the field for Friday night's preseason game against San Diego. Defensive tackle Pat Williams, linebackers Sam Cowart and Napoleon Harris and safety Darren Sharper all appeared in the first two exhibition games.
SPECIALIST, VIKINGS TO CONSULT
The Vikings had hoped that center Matt Birk could make his preseason debut this Friday against San Diego. But now it appears as if there is a chance Birk won't be ready for the Sept. 11 regular-season opener against Tampa Bay at the Metrodome, and if he opts for surgery, his season could be done.
"It's coming along slower than he and we had anticipated," coach Mike Tice said last week. "But by no means is it cause for concern of anything except that it's not a slam dunk now that he's going to play against Tampa. That would be the only thing I would say. Certainly he's going to play."
Birk, who had surgery last June to repair a torn labrum in his right hip, began training camp on the physically unable to perform list as the Vikings took a very cautious approach with the four-time Pro Bowl selection. He was activated Aug. 10, but only saw limited work in practice.
The Vikings were concerned enough about his progress that Birk recently was examined by a doctor in New York. The team played the Jets last Friday in a preseason game at Giants Stadium.
Tice said the New York-based doctor and the Vikings physicians would discuss the situation. "There are different ways we can go," Tice said.
It has been a difficult past year for Birk, who had surgery to repair sports hernias last August, November and March. He missed four games last season and was unable to take part in any of the Vikings' offseason workout program. Doctors thought the hip injury was a result of Birk trying to play through the second hernia for the majority of the 2004 season.
Tice remained hopeful Birk would be able to practice in pads this week, so the team can get an idea of where things stand. That sounded like a wishful thinking Monday.
If Birk remains out, his replacement will continue to be sixth-year player Cory Withrow. Tice wasn't pleased with Withrow's performance in the preseason opener against Kansas City, but felt the center made big strides in the 28-21 loss to the Jets.
"Cory played really well in the (Jets) game and he settled some things down for us," Tice said. "He really did a great job in protection. Did the things I want him to do. Being smaller (6-2, 287 pounds), there are certain techniques you've got to do differently than you do if you're bigger. He did them."
Tice also was happy with the play of guards Adam Goldberg and Marcus Johnson, who started in place of right guard Chris Liwienski (sprained left shoulder). Johnson, a rookie second-round pick from Mississippi, has impressed Tice with his athletic ability.
In fact, it was expected Johnson would remain at right guard and Liwienski would be shifted back to left guard. Liwienski was moved to the right side during the off-season after the Vikings severed ties with David Dixon. The versatile Goldberg likely will find himself as a backup at guard and center.
He was finally discharged on Saturday, three days after the team broke camp in Mankato. The fact it took time for the antibiotics to begin taking effect wouldn't have been a huge surprise considering the 6-foot-2 Herrera is 315 pounds.
Before the injury, Herrera had impressed coach Mike Tice with his performance. Tice had planned to use Herrera some with the first team at center, splitting time with Cory Withrow as starter Matt Birk continues to rehab from hip surgery.