By now, Mike Zimmer’s Vikings defense is well versed at subbing a safety.
Andrew Sendejo will not play Monday night in Chicago because of an ankle injury that kept him from practicing all week. Sendejo was spelled by rookie safety Jayron Kearse after injuring his ankle on a first-quarter interception return in Philadelphia. Kearse is expected to make his first career start against the Bears after tallying two tackles in 52 snaps last week.
“It was definitely a learning experience for me,” Kearse said. “I just gained a lot from it as far as confidence, learning the speed of a regular-season game.”
Kearse, a seventh-round pick out of Clemson, would be the seventh different safety to start for Zimmer in his 40th game as coach of the Vikings, though it’s just the first time they need a replacement this season. Five times last year the Vikings called upon a backup safety to start. Quarterbacks didn’t exactly torch them, combining for nine touchdown passes and five interceptions in those games.
“The system is fairly easy in the things we ask them to do,” Zimmer said of his safeties. “And most of the time, it’s interchangeable. One guy can play either position, so that allows multiple guys to play.”
The Vikings’ No. 1-ranked scoring defense will otherwise be intact, including safety Harrison Smith, who has three picks in six career games against Bears quarterback Jay Cutler.
In Jeffery’s shadow
Cornerback Xavier Rhodes is familiar with Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery and could shadow him again Monday in Chicago. Jeffery’s 520 receiving yards leads the Bears, but he’s yet to catch a touchdown pass. And Cutler’s return from a thumb injury means Jeffery once again could become a scoring machine.
“[Cutler] and Alshon, they have a chemistry going for a while now,” Rhodes said. “With him coming back, you know what type of game it’s going to be.”
For Rhodes, a key to the matchup between a 6-foot-3 receiver and 6-foot-1 corner is mental.
“You can’t let his physicality get in your head,” Rhodes said. “You watch film and you see him get to a couple corners at times. They get frustrated and think there should be a flag or whatever, and one play turns into three, four, five [bad] plays.”
The Vikings could be without punt returner Marcus Sherels for the first time in a regular-season game since 2011, his rookie campaign. Sherels was held out of practice all week because of a right wrist injury and is listed as questionable against the Bears. Sherels’ 14.6-yard average on punt returns is third best in the league.
Receivers Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen and Cordarrelle Patterson could step in at punt returner. Patterson is also listed as questionable because of a concussion, but he returned to practice Saturday and is expected to play, Zimmer said.
Run game thinned
A struggling Vikings running game will try to find a groove without Jerick McKinnon, who did not practice all week because of an ankle injury. Matt Asiata is expected to start. The focus is on not going backward, Zimmer said, as they try to elevate an offense with an NFL-worst 2.6 yards per carry.
“I think it’s negative-yardage runs,” Zimmer said. “That brings your average down.”
Tight end MyCole Pruitt (knee) is questionable to make his return Monday after being limited in practice this week. Guard Zac Kerin (hand) has been ruled out.
The Bears offensive line could be without both starting guards as Kyle Long (triceps) is doubtful to play and Josh Sitton (ankle) is questionable.