Injured Players Looking For Return To Practice

The Vikings took a patient approach with injured starters over the last two weeks in hopes that they would be able to return to the practice field this week in preparation for the games that count.

Injuries often are the fuel for the most intriguing stories of training camp. The Vikings are a classic example again this year.

Center Matt Birk's saga lasted all of training camp and the result was the Pro Bowler gets placed on injured reserve and he needs more surgery.

Tight end Jim Kleinsasser and tackle Mike Rosenthal haven't been injured so far, but all eyes have been on both offensive mainstays as they both try to return from missing most of last season.

Aaron Elling enter the preseason's third game in a virtual dead heat with Paul Edinger for the Vikings' kicking job, but after suffering a strained hip before pregame action, "The Turk" started making his way toward Elling's locker.

Then you have the running backs. Before the signing of ReShard Lee, everyone but Butchie Wallace had some sort of injury over the past six weeks. The Vikings were wisely being cautious by keeping Michael Bennett (sore neck) and Mewelde Moore (sprained ankle) out of action in the preseason finale.

Rookie Ciatrick Fason, who missed time with a sprained ankle earlier in preseason, started Friday in Seattle but probably wasn't close to 100 percent either. Wallace and Adimchinobe Echemandu both got carries as they battled for the fifth running back spot. Lee was signed earlier last week as a potential special teams asset as a returner. As it turned out, all of those last three didn't make the initial cut.

And to think not long ago we were crowing about the deepest stable of running backs in the NFL.

"What worries me the most about the offense is the backfield," one NFL scout said. "Michael Bennett is a speed guy — very limited — and I don't think he'll hold up for 16 weeks.

"I like Ciatrick Fason, the durable rookie from Florida, starts before the end of the year."

Fason's success, or lack of it, was one of the more enticing storylines in a meaningless game where most first-team players didn't get much action.

In the defensive backfield the Vikings also have a concern. Fred Smoot, perhaps the biggest free agent signing by the Vikings this season, has battled a series of minor injuries throughout camp. Smoot didn't play Friday because he jammed his right knee — that was already sore — during practice.

"We're just taking a precaution to make sure I'm ready for Sept. 11," Smoot said.

Smoot missed the first two preseason games because of a strained neck he said he suffered from an aggressive offseason weight-training program. He made his debut two weeks ago against San Diego, then missed Friday.

"We're going to shut him down so we are not in any danger next week," head coach Mike Tice said last week. "He's fine, he could go… I just don't think that it makes sense based on the amount of time those guys are going to get. Why not just shut it down till Monday?"

That was strategy with many of the injured players. Now the Vikings have to hope their patient approach does help get the walking wounded back on the practice field in preparations for the games that really count.

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