Throughout most of training camp, the Vikings have been without three starters – wide receiver Sidney Rice, center John Sullivan and cornerback Cedric Griffin.
To the surprise of nobody, Rice was placed on the reserve/physically unable to perform list, which will keep him out of action at least the first six weeks.
For Griffin and Sullivan, however, the prognosis remains cloudy, but one thing would appear to be certain – they're expected back on the field sooner than later. They've already returned to the practice field on at least a limited basis. As the Vikings made their choices about who would stay and who would go, they had the option – more likely with Griffin than Sullivan – to place him the reserve/PUP list if the team felt he wouldn't be ready for the first five games. They didn't – keeping both of them on the active 53-man roster.
When it comes to injuries, the Vikings are about as forthcoming as a mob boss being questioned by the feds. Head coach Brad Childress is a strong believer in "competitive advantage" and information on the extent or severity of injuries is passed on a "really-really-need-to-know" basis. Because the NFL doesn't require teams in the preseason to adhere to its injury reporting policy, the extent of the injuries to both Griffin and Sullivan are purely speculation.
That being said, it would appear that, even through the subterfuge, both Sullivan and Griffin will be ready at some point soon.
Griffin went to practice and participated Sunday. It was his first practice since training camp opened in July that he was padded up and participating and he said it was good to finally be back on the field a little more than eight months after having surgery Jan. 28 to repair a torn ACL.
"Practice went real well," Griffin said. "I'm used to practices. I've been doing this for a long time. All is well and I just feel good to get back out there with the guys."
Early during the preseason, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier made a point to tell the assembled media that, despite making significant progress in rehabilitation from surgery, Griffin wouldn't be ready for the start of the regular season. It seemed a curious statement considering that there were still five-plus weeks until Thursday's opener, but it was accepted as fact at the time. As the opener looms on the horizon, Griffin wouldn't commit to whether he would be active for the game, but he did say he has been targeting Thursday's rematch with the Saints – the site of his injury – ever since he started the process of getting back on the field.
"I was just working since Day One – January 28th – in my rehab and it's been going really well. I'm still working hard and we'll see where it goes from here. Whenever they're ready for me to go, I'll step in, I'll play and I'll take some snaps."
For weeks, Griffin deferred questions to the medical staff, saying that, until he was cleared by them, he wouldn't be getting on the field. Now that he has that clearance, he sees his return getting closer, but isn't ready to pronounce himself ready.
"It's still a work in progress," Griffin said. "I'm still working toward getting back to where I want to be. I've been working to get back into shape and repair my ACL and get it as strong as possible. They felt like it was time, so I was good to go. Now we'll see (when I return)."
Sullivan was also on the practice field Sunday. Sullivan was never on the PUP list in camp, but he was sidelined for much of camp. He said he was happy to finally start taking the initial steps to getting his starting job back, opening holes for Adrian Peterson to run through and protecting Brett Favre from the beat-down that still haunts the Vikings O-line. Things felt "normal" Sunday and he was glad to be in the mix.
"It felt good," Sullivan said. "I'm just trying to get back out there and get to work a little bit. I'm taking it one day at a time."
Fans may not realize it because prime-time NFL players don't get too much on-field exposure in the preseason. Even when they do, the schemes are pretty vanilla, as coaches don't want to show too much that other teams can address on film study. To the casual observer, it may appear as though starters just go through the motions, but Sullivan said those times on the field are critical to getting into game shape and he admits he's behind in that process.
"You can only get into football shape by playing football," said Sullivan, who added that there are still positives that can be achieved while sidelined. "I've got some catching up to do, but I've been there every practice. You learn a lot trying to help the other guys out."
The hardest part of catching up to full speed is the conditioning aspect of it. Successful offenses impose their will with clock-killing drives that sap the strength out of a defense. The same happens for the offensive linemen. A long scoring drive is what puts a stamp on a game, but it requires a lot of energy to be expended and Sullivan said he has missed out on that part of getting ready to go to war and succeed.
"It's putting drives together," Sullivan said. "When you have long sets of plays – I think the longest drive we had this preseason was 17 plays – you need to be in pretty good condition. No matter what time of year, to go through 17 plays at full speed the entire time (requires conditioning)."
The last official word on the subject with Sullivan is that he's "day-to-day." When asked if he thought he would be in the starting lineup Thursday, Sullivan kept the mob code of silence.
"I'm not sure at this point," Sullivan said. "Coach Childress can answer that better."
If Sullivan can't go, his place in the starting lineup would likely be taken by guard Anthony Herrera or Jon Cooper. The same question was posed to him – are you expecting to start Thursday? The answer was eerily similar.
"You gotta ask Coach all them all that," Herrera said. "You gotta ask them all that stuff."
Competitive advantage for the Saints? Not on the Vikings' watch.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
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