Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.
Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.
Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.
Today was a travel day for the Vikings, so no media access.
There are some major injury questions for the team on Monday as it gets ready for its game against the Giants (7:40 p.m., ESPN and Ch. 4) in the Meadowlands.
First, safety Harrison Smith is definitely out because of turf toe. Could be a season ending injury, but the Vikings hope after a few weeks of rest he could return to the lineup. Surgery, says coach Leslie Frazier, would mean 4-6 months of recovery. Andrew Sendejo is in for Smith.
Second, Adrian Peterson has a hamstring issue. The Vikings expect him to play – he practiced Saturday – but hamstring issues tend to linger. So that’s a concern.
Third, left tackle Matt Kalil, who by his own admission isn’t playing up to Pro Bowl standards, had tightness in his back late in the week. If Kalil can’t play, ex-Bear J’Marcus Webb is likely to step in.
Cornerback A.J. Jefferson (ankle) is out.
Kicker Blair Walsh has a hamstring pull in his left (non-kicking) leg and that likely means punter Jeff Locke will handle kickoff duties, as he did last week against Carolina.
Interesting that receiver Rodney Smith made the 53-man roster and now has hip problems. He won’t be active Monday night, Frazier said.
Jacob Lacey will be active at cornerback with Jefferson out. Lacey had a knee injury in training camp and arthoscopic surgery, then was cut, but he’s back now to replace Smith on the roster and will be thrown into the action.
“He’s recovered from his knee,” Frazier said. “I don’t see much residual effect from the surgery that he had. We’re probably going to have to activate him for this ballgame with A.J. being down. The good thing is he has some familiarity with what we’re doing on defense, so that helps a lot. But he’ll be up and going this weekend.”
The play of the secondary could be key against Eli Manning, who has 15 interceptions this year, but is a two-time Super Bowl winner. Smith has been the team’s best defensive back, and with Sendejo stepping in, and Lacey forced into action, Manning could have a big game.
Frazier has gone out of his way to defend cornerback Josh Robinson, who appears to have struggled. On Saturday, Frazier said: “When you’re playing in the secondary and having some ups and downs, you’ve just got to keep battling and we just keep encouraging him. He’s going to get better. He’s doing some things better than he was when we first put him at this position. It’s a challenging position playing inside against some very good receivers and it’s not always man and it’s not always zone. Just got to keep bringing him along and he’s going to get better and our defense will get better as he gets better. This is part of the maturation of having young guys playing in the secondary but he’s a good football player, just got to keep putting him out there and keep giving him opportunities to get better.”
Veteran defensive linemen Jared Allen (ankle) and Kevin Williams (knee) were limited in practice Saturday, but should be good to go against the Giants.
LONDON -- Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said the team hopes Christian Ponder is able to do more work in practice Thursday after being limited on Wednesday because of his rib injury.
Frazier said Ponder experienced "some soreness" on Wednesday, which prevented him from doing as much work as the team had hoped. Matt Cassel took the majority of snaps.
"We’re going to try and give Christian more today to see if he can handle it and try and make a decision by Friday," Frazier said.
Frazier said the team likely will make a decision on Ponder after Friday's practice as opposed to a game-time decision.
"Probably if he couldn’t do anything on Friday to where we felt comfortable, we probably wouldn’t put him out there if we didn’t see what we needed to see on Friday," Frazier said.
Ponder's injury raised speculation that the Vikings saw this as a convenient opportunity to make a quarterback switch. Frazier dismissed that conspiracy theory.
"It’s purely circumstantial if that happens," Frazier said. "We want Christian to play. We want him to get out there and continue to grow and develop as a quarterback. But we signed Matt Cassel for occasions just like this, if something were to happen to Christian. We’ll see what happens."
Secondary health update
Frazier didn't sound optimistic that cornerback Chris Cook will be able to play Sunday. Cook was not expected to practice Thursday because of a groin injury.
"If he’s not able to [practice] today or tomorrow, it’s highly unlikely he’ll be able to play in the game," Frazier said. "I think the fact that he’s not able to practice today leads you to believe that it may difficult tomorrow. But he wants to try tomorrow so we’ll see."
Frazier said A.J. Jefferson (ankle) will practice Thursday and possibly safety Jamarca Sanford (hamstring). Frazier said Cook's situation might force the team to make a roster move, possibly promote Robert Steeples from the practice squad.
"If A.J. is not able to go today, we may have to do something like that because you don’t want to go into this game with only three healthy corners, especially with all the three wide receivers sets that they show," Frazier said. "We’d have to look at doing something. It just would not be wise playing with three corners."
LONDON -- The Vikings injury report has become lengthy. Seven players either were limited or did not participate at all on Wednesday.
As addressed earlier today, quarterback Christian Ponder was limited because of a rib injury. Also limited were Kevin Williams (knee) and running back Matt Asiata (hamstring).
Three defensive backs did not practice -- Chris Cook (groin), Jamarca Sanford (hamstring) and A.J. Jefferson (ankle). Tight end Rhett Ellison also did not participate after missing Sunday's game against Cleveland because of a knee injury.
The Vikings health issues in the secondary are a major concern because they potentially could be without two starters in Cook and Sanford. General manager Rick Spielman gave a rare in-season media session today and said his staff, including assistant GM George Paton, stayed back in the Twin Cities to monitor the waiver wire so they could be in position to handle logistics if they need to make a roster move this week.
"I've been monitoring at 2 a.m. the wires for any potential moves that can be made, the logistics of making those moves, how you get that guy over to England, does he have a passport if we have to bring a player over here," Spielman said. "That's been kind of interesting. I didn't get to sleep until 2:30 this morning and had to get woken up. I called my people over there and it's 3 in the morning over there and they're asking what you're doing.
"We've got until 9 o'clock tonight to make a move but we have to do it on your (Minn) time. It's worked out great so far and we'll see anything from a personnel standpoint, if we have to do anything, that we'll be able to get that accomplished."
The injuries in the secondary create speculation about whether the team has contacted Antoine Winfield to see if he will put off retirement for now. Spielman declined to discuss their potential interest in Winfield.
"I won't get into any facts on who we talked to or what we're doing," he said. "We always look at options when there are injuries. We'll continue to that."
Asked if Winfield has been ruled in or out of consideration, Spielman said, "I can't rule anything. You never know."
CHICAGO -- The Vikings fell to 0-2 with a gut-punch 31-30 loss to the Bears on a touchdown in the final seconds.
Bears tight end Martellus Bennett caught a 16-yard touchdown pass with 10 seconds left for the game-winning score.
The Vikings defense forced four turnovers and they also had a 105-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by rookie Cordarrelle Patterson.
With the scored tied 24-24 entering the fourth quarter, the Vikings created two takeaways in the final quarter -- an interception by safety Harrison Smith and a forced fumble and recovery by nose tackle Letroy Guion.
Christian Ponder threw a pick-six in the second quarter that gave the Bears a 21-14 lead. But Ponder made some critical plays with his feet and arm in the second half. That included a 22-yard pass to Greg Jennings on third-and-3 to the Vikings 6-yard line with less than 4 minutes remaining.
But it wasn't enough.
Geji McKinney will be taking plenty of hot sauce and Southern spices. Dennis Ryan is packing up 20,000 pounds of equipment. Luther Hippe has ensured every player has a passport and that ESPN will be available in the hotel.
It’s taken tremendous effort for the Vikings to prepare for their home-away-from-home game in London on Sept. 29. Friday, several members of the team’s staff—including food service director McKinney, equipment manager Ryan and director of operations/team travel Hippe—discussed some of the groundwork behind the NFL International Series game against Pittsburgh at Wembley Stadium.
The object, they said, is to keep the game-week experience as similar as possible to the normal routine. McKinney will ensure their food tastes the same, while Ryan will see that everyone has their favorite items, right down to the proper brand of coffee. Some staff members already have inspected the facilities and said everything from the hotel to the practice field is top-notch.
“I got an opportunity to fly over there in March, and the reception we got was just incredible,’’ Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said. “From the NFL and what they’ve put together, from the people of London and how supportive they were, from every venue we looked at, they just rolled out the red carpet. You can tell it’s a very important event.’’
The Vikings will take their entire staff, along with the cheerleaders and mascot. Because it is a home game, the team plans to turn Wembley into a transatlantic twin of the Metrodome, using the same banners, music and video they do at their usual home field.
Some of the special events revealed Friday include a fan rally on Regent Street, which corporate sales manager Tanya Dreesen said is expected to draw 600,000 people. There also will be a giant tailgate party at Wembley, and Gene Simmons of KISS will sing the American national anthem.
Several representatives of tourism and trade groups from Minnesota and the Twin Cities also will be on the trip, using it as a promotional opportunity.
Lester Bagley, the Vikings’ vice president of public affairs, said season-ticket holders are responding enthusiastically, and the team has sold more tickets than any other that has participated in the seven-year history of the event.
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