Notebook: Backup D-Backs Ready if Needed

The Vikings haven't announced any decisions on Dwight Smith's status for Sunday night's game, but the backup safeties who have been injured are getting back on the field and say they are getting more comfortable in their roles. See what Mike Doss and Tank Williams had to say, along with the possibility of rookie Marcus McCauley making another start for the injured Antoine Winfield.

Vikings coach Brad Childress said on Wednesday that he still had a few more questions about safety Dwight Smith being cited for misdemeanor possession of marijuana on Dec. 13 in downtown Minneapolis, but Smith's backups would appear to be in a better position to fill his spot if Childress does end up suspending Smith for the Vikings' Sunday night game against the Redskins.

"A lot of that is going through the legal process," Childress said. "It's really pretty simple, and people have asked me before, ‘Well, you did this the last time …' This time I don't have all of the facts. Last time I had all of the facts, so when I get all of the facts, then we'll do what we need to do."

Last time, Smith was cited for indecent conduct with a woman in a downtown Minneapolis stairwell. He was suspended for one game, the opening game of Smith and Childress' Vikings career against the Washington Redskins.

Smith started Monday night against the Chicago Bears, but at the time the Vikings were razor-thin on depth at safety with Tank Williams listed as doubtful with a knee injury and Mike Doss as questionable with a hamstring injury.

Williams was inactive on Monday. Doss played sparingly and said this week that everything felt "pretty good."

Doss, who suffered a season-ending tear to his anterior cruciate ligament last year with the Indianapolis Colts and came to the Vikings familiar with the coaching style of defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, said it's been a good learning experience behind Darren Sharper and Smith.

"It definitely adds experience to my game. It gives me a chance to get 100 percent healthy from the ACL and not feeling like I'm pressured into a starting role and feeling like I have to perform right then and there," Doss said. "It's been a learning experience for me, a humbling season, going from a four-year starter to just working myself into contribute. But I'm learning from it and just still feel blessed to be in the NFL."

ACL injuries can often take players more than one year to fully recover from, but Doss said he recently got over that hump.

"I actually feel like I got over the wall maybe midway through the season, just being able to trust my body and being able to play on special teams and knowing the different plays I've got," he said. "I got an opportunity to start against Detroit (when Smith was disciplined for a heated argument with Childress) for a couple of snaps, so I felt like my confidence is growing and I really feel like I'm right there. Once I get another opportunity, I'll be able to showcase what I can do and I'm still Mike Doss as a football player."

Williams said his knee injury this year is minor compared to the two knee injuries that marred his previous two seasons with the Vikings and Tennessee Titans.

"If something happens in special teams and my knee gets rolled up into, you've just got to rehab it. It's not anything like last year where I had to have season-ending surgery. I'll be out doing a few things this week, so I don't even look at in the same manner," he said.

With Doss already having one start this season and his familiarity with Frazier's system, he could be the player next on the list should Smith end up suspended or not starting either of the last two games. Either way, missing Smith's potential absence could end up hurting a pass defense that, while it remains ranked last in the NFL, hasn't surrendered a 300-yard effort in the last four games.

"I just think the players are finally buying into the system," Doss said. "It was a tough transition when you have a Mike Tomlin, who was a great defensive coordinator in his own right and now is the head coach in Pittsburgh. You have a little adjustment when you go through OTAs in spring and then minicamp. You have to really get some games under your belt for those guys to know the playcalling and then go out there and execute. Once you get some experience, then you go out and execute it and now you see that it's working and now it's going good for you. Ever since the Green Bay game, we've finally tightened up and said now we're going to trust the system."

ANOTHER D-BACK DIFFERENCE

Cornerback Antoine Winfield says his shoulder/pectoral muscle is feeling pretty good, but if he can't play, it would be rookie Marcus McCauley making his seventh start of the season. Some of those starts have been when he was used in the nickel defense to open a game and Winfield slid inside to cover the slot receiver and other times he has played for Winfield while he was out with a hamstring injury.

McCauley said the experience filling in for 4 ½ games during Winfield's hamstring issue helped him further adapt to the NFL.

"It just helped me mentally to stay on top of myself, being in a secondary like this with veteran guys," McCauley said after playing the second half of Monday night's game against the Chicago Bears. "It's hard to not have yourself prepared mentally because they expect the same out of you as they expect out of Winfield and Cedric Griffin and guys like that. They hold you all to the same standard."

The rookie was forced into action once again for the second half against the Bears and had to face dangerous returner/receiver Devin Hester.

"Your heart always stops when he has the ball in his hands. It's an unbelievable feeling when that dude gets the ball," McCauley said. "The crowd stands up whenever he has the ball in his hands."

Winfield said his pectoral muscle was pretty bad on Monday night, when he struggled to raise his arm after hitting receiver Muhsin Muhhamad. He didn't practice on Wednesday or Thursday, but he said he's been able to miss a week of practice before and go out and play well on game days.

For now, he's just happy that the pass defense has been showing signs of improvement.

"Earlier in the season we were giving up a lot of big plays, a lot of deep balls for touchdowns," Winfield said. "Now, we haven't been doing that. Guys are tackling better. Guys are more comfortable with each other. We study a lot of film. We're finding ways to cheat routes."

NOTES

  • The Vikings' injury report did not change from Wednesday to Thursday. WR Sidney Rice (ankle), LB Dontarrious Thomas (groin) and CB Antoine Winfield (shoulder) did not practice while Tank Williams (knee) was limited.

    For the Redskins, QB Jason Campbell (knee) is out. S LaRon Landry (quadricep), S Pierson Prioleau (hamstring), C Mike Pucillo (back), TE Todd Yoder (knee) did not participate in practice. WR Keenan McCardell (calf) took part on a limited basis.

  • Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is a candidate for the NFC Rookie of the Week after rushing 20 times for 78 yards and two touchdowns against the Chicago Bears. Voting takes place on NFL.com. Peterson won Rookie of the Month honors in September and October and won weekly honors twice already this season.

  • Redskins coach Joe Gibbs is 8-1 against the Vikings, but that one loss was in Brad Childress' coaching debut at the beginning of the 2006 season.

  • The last time the Redskins played at the Metrodome, it was one of Minnesota's more complete games, a 41-7 Vikings victory on Oct. 18, 1998. Randall Cunningham threw for 259 yards and two touchdowns while the Minnesota defense had five sacks and allowed just 177 total net yards.

  • The Vikings will clinch a playoff berth with a win and a New Orleans loss or tie. The Saints, winners of seven of their last 10 games, play host to the Philadelphia Eagles. But the Vikings will be facing a Redskins team that has won its last two after dropping four in a row. Washington is still in the playoff hunt at 7-7.

    "You've got a chance to make the playoffs," said Washington head coach Joe Gibbs. "It's a big deal. It's motivation."

  • Defensive end Darrion Scott, who was placed on season-ending injured reserve four weeks into the season with a Jones fracture in his foot, is back running at Winter Park.

  • The Oakland Raiders signed former Vikings safety Rashad Baker off waivers from the New England Patriots.

  • Kansas City Chiefs offensive tackle Kyle Turley was placed on injured reserve. Turley and Matt Birk held a press conference in Minneapolis on Dec. 11 to promote Gridiron Guardian Sunday on Dec. 23, a date when some NFL players will donate a portion of their paychecks to Gridiron Greats, an organization that supports NFL alumni in dire need.

  • The Redskins officially placed LB Rocky McIntosh on injured reserve and promoted DE Alex Buzbee from the practice squad.

  • Former Vikings cornerback Chad Johnson had a tryout with the Atlanta Falcons. Johnson was on the Vikings' practice squad for the first six weeks of this season.

  • Former Vikings offseason wide receiver Cortez Hankton had a tryout with the Philadelphia Eagles.


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