First-year Vikings assistant coach Terence Newman has been working extra hours this week preparing cornerback Holton Hill for the possibility that he’ll have to start in place of the injured Xavier Rhodes in Sunday night’s game against the Saints at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“Terence said I need to be on my ‘A’ game this week,” Hill said. “He said, ‘Drew Brees is going to know our defense as good as we do, so you need to know it as good as Drew Brees does.’ ”
Hill is an undrafted rookie with 39 NFL snaps. Brees is a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer with 39 years of breathing and no signs of aging.
“I was 4 when he started playing in the NFL,” said Hill, 21. “It’s an unbelievable feeling to actually be on the same field as him. It’s a blessing. I’ll cherish each and every opportunity.”
Hill also will have to contend with receiver Michael Thomas. In the Vikings’ playoff win last year, Thomas caught seven passes for 85 yards and two touchdowns with Rhodes, a first-team All-Pro, covering him for most of the game.
“I’m not really worried about [Hill] as far as the game being too big for him,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “If he has to play, I feel like he’s a competitor. He’s going to get in some matchups that may not be great. I like this kid.”
Asked if he has to guard against being in awe of Brees, Hill shook his head.
“Nah, it won’t be anything like that,” he said. “Once I’m out there, I won’t be in awe of anybody.”
Rhodes, Barr among sidelined starters
Five injured starters, including three on defense, missed practice again Thursday: linebacker Anthony Barr (hamstring), cornerback Xavier Rhodes (foot), safety Andrew Sendejo (groin), running back Dalvin Cook (hamstring) and left guard Tom Compton (knee).
Meanwhile, there’s good news in that nose tackle Linval Joseph (ankle/knee) and left tackle Riley Reiff (foot) were limited again in practice and appear ready to return Sunday. Joseph missed last week’s game, while Reiff has missed the past two games.
Griffen ‘looks fine’
Everson Griffen (not injury related) was added to the injury report Thursday and listed as having full participation Wednesday and Thursday. Griffen returned to the team Wednesday after missing five games to receive treatment for mental health issues.
Zimmer said after Thursday’s practice that the coaches haven’t discussed what they will do Sunday with Griffen.
Indications are Griffen will start. Logic suggests he will play a limited number of snaps.
“I’d say anytime you miss [five] weeks, there’s a little bit of rust,” Zimmer said. “I watched him on tape [Wednesday]. I watched him a little bit [Thursday]. He looks fine.”
Saints to test run game
The Saints have the top-ranked run defense. They’re allowing 72.3 yards per game, which is 13.4 yards fewer than any other team.
The Vikings, meanwhile, have had two of their three best running games and all four rushing touchdowns in the past two weeks.
Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo said the running game is a work in progress for obvious reasons.
“I’m an ‘it is what it is’ kind of a guy,” he said. “If you’re a realist, I think new offensive coordinator, new quarterback, a little bit of a new scheme. Obviously, we’ve had a revolving door up front. I think there are a lot of factors involved.
“Are we looking to improve each week running the football? One hundred percent. I think you’re starting to see guys settling into their roles. I think you’re starting to see myself starting to understand what guys do well. That takes time. No one wants to hear that, but it kind of is what it is.”