Antoine Winfield smiled wide as he came off the practice field Thursday. For the first time in October, the Vikings cornerback participated in a full-contact, full-pads practice.
His initial analysis was upbeat, the soreness in his neck slowly fading.
"It went pretty good for the first time getting out there being able to hit," Winfield said. "Didn't feel too much. So it looks like I might be out there [Sunday]."
Coach Leslie Frazier said he wasn't quite as optimistic as he had expected to be, perhaps sensing some hesitance in Winfield during practice.
"He moved around OK," Frazier said. "I'd like to talk to him a little bit and see how he feels mentally as well as physically. [The Panthers] have some really good backs and, as you know, an explosive receiver [in Steve Smith]. So he's going to have to tackle for us like the Antoine we know."
For now, that means the "Winfield Watch" drags on.
The veteran corner injured his neck in Week 4 at Kansas City and hasn't played since.
At the worst, Winfield said the injury was "like a sharp pain" that limited the range of motion in his neck moving forward and backward but not side to side.
For the past three and a half weeks, Frazier has labeled the injury a ligament strain. Yet Winfield reiterated Thursday it was "more than a strain. But that's all I can say."
Hopeful to play Sunday, Winfield also said he's being cautious
"It is my neck," he said. "I do want to be able to move around after I get done playing football. So I've been in contact with the coaches, the trainers. They're giving me time. They've pretty much left it up to me. It's my decision. So that's a good thing."
After sitting out Wednesday's practice because of a sore ankle, Adrian Peterson was back as a limited participant Thursday. Coming off an impressive 175-yard outing against Green Bay, Peterson should have a chance to run wild again Sunday.
The Panthers, with linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis on injured reserve, have been vulnerable against the run. They allow an average of 133.4 yards per game, fourth worst in the NFL.
Six backs have totaled at least 85 yards against Carolina with the biggest performances coming from Chicago's Matt Forte (205 yards in Week 4), Atlanta's Michael Turner (139 yards in Week 6) and Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew (122 yards in Week 3).
New Allen in town
Jared Allen was absent from practice Thursday. But he had a legitimate reason: His wife, Amy, was giving birth to a baby girl, the couple's first child. Frazier received that news from reporters as he came off the practice field.
"Great news," he said. "I'm happy to hear that. I know the guys were all anxious to find out. If there's any reason to miss [practice], that's a good reason to miss."
Running back Lorenzo Booker (concussion-like symptoms), tight end Visanthe Shiancoe (foot) and guard Anthony Herrera (knee) sat out Thursday's practice. Limited participants were Winfield, Peterson, receiver Percy Harvin (ribs), defensive tackle Remi Ayodele (ankle), end Brian Robison (shoulder) and linebacker E.J. Henderson (knee).
With Booker and Harvin on the injury report, Frazier said Marcus Sherels and Brandon Burton could figure into the competition to handle kick return duties.
• The Bears released safety Chris Harris on Thursday. But Frazier seemed lukewarm about the possibility of the Vikings reaching out to Harris.
"I'm sure we'll have some discussions and we'll see," Frazier said. "But safety is not such a need for us at this stage."
• Sunday's game in Carolina will showcase the NFL's leading rusher -- Peterson has 712 yards -- and the league's leading receiver in Smith (818 yards).