MANKATO – The revamped Vikings running game isn't at full strength yet, but it took two steps in that direction Monday.
Running back Latavius Murray practiced for the first time in a Vikings uniform after being activated from the physically-unable-to-perform list following the right ankle surgery that kept him out through all of the team's offseason program. Left tackle Riley Reiff also returned to the practice field, after missing eight consecutive practices because of a back injury.
Neither player participated in team drills, and it remains to be seen whether either one will play during the Vikings' first preseason game at Buffalo on Thursday night, but the health of the two free agent pickups appears to be headed in the right direction.
Tackle Rashod Hill also returned after a left leg injury forced him out of Saturday night's practice. Hill was carted off the field, but was able to stand on his own before the cart arrived, and coach Mike Zimmer said Monday the cart was only a precaution.
"He was going to get an X-ray, and they didn't want him walking all that way," Zimmer said. "So that's what that was."
Even if the injuries to Reiff and Hill seemed not to be serious, they provided an eerie flashback to the Vikings offensive line troubles a year ago. Still, Zimmer said, the Vikings can't be afraid of what might happen in practice.
"It's like, 'Not this again.' But, you know, we can't go into this thing with kid gloves," he said. "And we can't go into it scared. So we just got to go and if something happens, we have to regroup. Maybe we learn from last year that that's the way we got to do it."
Showing his range
The Vikings seem to be preparing a bigger role in 2017 for Danielle Hunter, who led the team with 12½ sacks despite playing on a rotational basis last year. And Hunter's rare athletic skill set could give them the opportunity to take that role in a number of different directions.
Hunter, who stands 6-5 and ran a 4.57-second 40-yard dash at the 2015 NFL combine, spent some time dropping into coverage as part of a zone blitz package Monday. The Vikings have shown a willingness to put their defensive ends in coverage in the past, and the more attention Hunter attracts from opposing offenses, the more he can deceive blockers and open up opportunities for other rushers.
"He probably runs as good as most of our guys anyway," Zimmer said. "It's just knowing your responsibility and getting in the right place. It's not like we're asking him to cover man-to-man down the field or anything like that."
Cook at the top
The Vikings released their first official depth chart of the preseason Monday, and with Murray still working his way back from his ankle injury, the team gave rookie Dalvin Cook the top spot on its running back list.
Cook received most of the first-team work in the Vikings' offseason program, and has continued in that spot during training camp. The Vikings figure to use Cook, Murray and Jerick McKinnon during the season, but the second-round pick is staking his claim to a big role.
"I thought he was good [during Saturday night's practice, when the Vikings focused heavily on their running game]," Zimmer said. "It's kind of hard when you're not tackling. Some of these 2-yard runs could turn into 6 yards. But the defensive line did a nice job."
The Vikings' first depth chart stayed in line with how they have used their roster during training camp, with Nick Easton the starting center ahead of Pat Elflein and Joe Berger the top right guard. On defense, Tom Johnson is ahead of Datone Jones at three-technique tackle, while Trae Waynes is listed as the starting left cornerback.
Veterans Kai Forbath and Ryan Quigley are ahead of Marshall Koehn and Taylor Symmank at kicker and punter, respectively, and the Vikings listed Marcus Sherels as their top kick and punt returner.