Cornerback Making His Return

Cornerback Fred Smoot was worried about a knee injury that was bothering him, but he looks like he'll be trying to walk the talk Friday night. Plus, get news on Matt Birk, Anthony Herrera, Troy Williamson and others.

Cornerback Fred Smoot, who has missed both preseason games and had participated in only two days of practice through last week, was back on the field Monday.

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.


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.


  • Second-year offensive lineman Anthony Herrera spent several days in a Mankato hospital last week because of a cellulite infection in his right leg that was caused by a cut from a cleat. Herrera was taken to the hospital at 3 a.m. Aug. 14 after he awoke in severe pain and with his leg swollen.

    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.

  • Rookie running back Ciatrick Fason, a fourth-round selection, will miss two-to-three weeks after suffering a high right ankle sprain in the third quarter against the Jets last Friday.

  • Troy Williamson made an impact in his first NFL game, catching a 54-yard pass from third-string quarterback Shaun Hill in the third quarter of last Friday's 28-21 loss to the New York Jets. Williamson then caught a 13-yard scoring pass from Hill to complete the drive. The seventh-overall pick in April's draft, Williamson had missed more than a week because of an impingement in his right foot. Coach Mike Tice said he wants to get the rookie work with the first team this week, and that was displayed in Monday first practice.

  • The coaching staff was impressed enough with E.J. Henderson's two-game performance at weakside linebacker that he will remain the starter at that position. Henderson was moved from the middle early in camp after the coaches decided he was playing too well not to have him with the starters.

  • Linebacker Napoleon Harris replaced Sam Cowart as one of the Vikings' two linebackers in the nickel package. Harris and Dontarrious Thomas are now being used in that role.

  • A magnetic resonance imaging exam last week on receiver Kelly Campbell's strained right quadriceps showed enough damage that he will be shut down for at least another week. Campbell re-injured his quadriceps during pre-game warm-ups on Aug. 12 before the preseason opener against Kansas City.

  • Former Washington Redskins linebacker Maurice Jones was signed to replace Quincy Stewart. Jones, who played college football at South Florida, was in training camp with the Green Bay Packers last season.

  • Veteran cornerback Ken Irvin, who was used at safety during the Vikings' developmental camps this spring, has been moved to free safety. Irvin, 33, has never played safety in a game during his career. He isn't thrilled about the move but said he wants to help the team anyway he can. "It's something I can do, but I still know I have a lot left at corner," he said.

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