Eric Kendricks’ streak of 40 straight NFL starts will come to an end. The middle linebacker is the only Vikings player ruled out for Sunday’s game against the Lions, after he was unable to practice this week because of a hamstring injury suffered against the Dolphins.
Two linebackers, Ben Gedeon and Eric Wilson, are expected to play increased roles. Gedeon will likely shift to Kendricks’ middle linebacker spot in the 4-3 base defense while Wilson could see additional snaps in the nickel defense.
Gedeon and Wilson could see a lot of action against a Lions offense averaging 28.5 rushing attempts in each of the past two games, during which quarterback Matthew Stafford has dealt with a back injury.
“They’re doing a lot of different personnel groups of late, with the big offensive lineman in at fullback a bit,” Gedeon said Friday. “They’re running the ball pretty well.”
The Lions have used 305-pound guard Joe Dahl as their lead blocker for three games while fullback Nick Bellore nurses an ankle injury.
“A lot of people say a fullback is just another offensive guard back there,” Gedeon said. “But they’re literally using an offensive guard.”
Cook ‘fresh’ for stretch
Thirty-six running backs — and Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson — have more carries than Vikings running back Dalvin Cook with two weeks left in the regular season. Cook’s previously limited workload and five missed games because of a hamstring injury mean his first NFL December playing time is absent the late-season slog felt by most players this time of year.
“Had to sit out a few games, but I know how to take care of my body,” Cook said. “I know how to get right, and I feel good.”
Cook has averaged 18.5 touches in the past two weeks, which is an increased workload expected to continue, according to coach Mike Zimmer. Interim coordinator Kevin Stefanski said there’s no “specific number” for Cook’s touches against the Lions, whose 16th-ranked run defense is allowing 115 rushing yards per game.
“I’m not worried about his injury or anything like that,” Zimmer said. “I think he looks fresh to me in the practices and games, so it’ll probably be similar to what it has been.”
Running back Ameer Abdullah returns to Detroit on Sunday for the first time since the Lions cut him and the Vikings added him last month. The Lions drafted Abdullah in 2015’s second round, but he fell out of the backfield rotation before being let go.
Abdullah said there are no hard feelings, but he wants to at least get more than the one kickoff return he took last week against the Dolphins for 24 yards. NFL rule changes have all but eliminated the kickoff return as an impactful play.
“That’s every week,” Abdullah said. “It’s no special emphasis because it’s Detroit. I appreciate every moment I had in Detroit. I especially appreciate the coaches and teammates I had there.”
Pro Bowl alternates
Three Vikings players — fullback C.J. Ham, cornerback Xavier Rhodes and return specialist Marcus Sherels — were named second alternates to the Pro Bowl, sources confirmed. The Vikings do not publicize Pro Bowl alternates.
Sherels, the ninth-year return man, has never made the Pro Bowl as an initial selection or alternate. Tarik Cohen of the Bears is the NFC kick returner, and the first alternate is unknown. Both would have to bail out for Sherels to play.
Receiver Adam Thielen, defensive end Danielle Hunter, linebacker Anthony Barr and safety Harrison Smith were voted onto the initial Pro Bowl roster this week.
Days after being selected to his first Pro Bowl on the merits of a season that’s produced 14½ sacks so far, Hunter can put another $500,000 in his pocket if he so much as splits a sack this weekend on the quarterback he brought down 3½ times last month.
Hunter, who is tied with Von Miller and J.J. Watt for second in the league with 14½ sacks, has already triggered a $500,000 escalator clause in his 2019 contract by eclipsing 13 sacks for the season. He’d bump the escalator to $1 million if he reaches 15 sacks, increasing his base salary to $10.4 million and his salary cap number to $14 million in 2019.
The 24-year-old isn’t the only pass rusher with a chance to cash in this weekend. If Hunter splits a sack with Tom Johnson on Sunday, it’ll net both players a combined $650,000.
Johnson, who’s already hit a $200,000 incentive for eclipsing three sacks, can bump his incentive to $350,000 with another half-sack. He has 4½ for the season, and would get $350,000 if he reaches five. Johnson also can make $500,000 if he has a surge at the end of the season and finishes with seven sacks.
And defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, who also has 4½ sacks, would land a $666,667 incentive if he reaches six sacks. An eight-sack season would bring Richardson a $1,333,333 incentive.