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Breaking news and year-round coverage of the NFL's Minnesota Vikings. Access Vikings is the Star Tribune's blog covering team news, rumors, games and all things purple.

Joe Berger leaves field after stretching; Harrison Smith still out

Center Joe Berger, who missed last week’s game because of a concussion, went through stretching exercises before today’s practice but then left the field with head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman.

Berger was limited in Wednesday’s practice but was held out of Thursday’s practice. His status for Sunday’s game at Jacksonville is uncertain.

Meanwhile, safety Harrison Smith (ankle) was not at practice again today and is still not expected to play.

The Vikings will issue their injury report after practice. Smith is expected to be listed as out.

And, yes, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (knee) warmed up but then left the field and will not play this week. He hasn’t played since the season opener.

Vikings' interior offensive line will have matchups to watch in Jacksonville

Every week following the Access Vikings game preview podcast, we’ll delve deeper into matchups to watch for the upcoming Vikings game.

However the Vikings decide to attack the Jaguars defense, they’ll need the interior trio along the line to play well on Sunday.

The strength of the 2-10 Jaguars’ fourth-ranked defense may be right up the middle, where former Broncos defensive tackle Malik Jackson and linebackers Paul Posluszny and Telvin Smith form a young group’s current backbone. They’re a lone bright spot for Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley, the former Seahawks defensive coordinator.

“It starts by the way they play team defense,” interim offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. “Same style of defense that you see in places like Seattle and Atlanta. They're very fundamental in the way they play. They don't do a lot. When they go into a game, they'll have a little bit of a game plan for you in certain situations.”

The Vikings are running the ball less since Shurmur took over following Norv Turner’s resignation. Under Turner, the Vikings preferred a between-the-tackles rushing attack behind center Joe Berger and guards Alex Boone and Brandon Fusco. It didn’t produce much and no gimmicks or gadget plays have been able to save the rushing attack, which is just one of four in the NFL to not have produced a 100-yard runner.

They have become more efficient by downsizing under Shurmur, averaging more than four yards per carry on just 17.5 attempts per the last two games against the Cowboys and Lions. Moving the chains isn’t easy against the Jaguars, but the Vikings might find some creases on the ground if they can win interior matchups. Against the turnover-prone Blake Bortles, they should get plenty of chances.

Offenses run against the Jagaurs asmuch as any defense in the NFL, because they’re playing with the largest average deficit (-4.74 points) at the start of a drive, per Football Outsiders.

And through seven straight losses, the Jaguars have surrendered at least 140 rushing yards to the Raiders, Titans, Bills and Texans.

Should the Vikings generate their first 100-yard running game since Oct. 3, they’ll need Berger (or Nick Easton), Boone and Fusco to gain a foothold. Berger was held out of practice Thursday while in the concussion protocol.

Jaguars linebackers jump out as perhaps their best unit, even with second-round pick Myles Jack playing sparingly. Posluszny leads the Jaguars with 97 combined tackles in his 10th season while Smith, a former college safety, has developed into a playmaker leading the Jaguars with 12 tackles for a loss and five pass deflections. At times, it can be difficult for an offensive lineman to get a hand on either linebacker.

Take this play from the Jaguars-Bills game a couple weeks ago for example. On first down, Tyrod Taylor’s pitch to LeSean McCoy is thwarted when the speed of both Smith and Posluszny puts Bills left guard Richie Incognito (64) in a bad spot. Incognito doesn’t touch either linebacker as both converge on McCoy for a loss of two yards.

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When quarterback Sam Bradford drops back to pass, the Vikings’ biggest threat will also come from the interior. Malik Jackson (6-5, 300) can be a real push for the Jaguars’ pass rush. His 4.5 sacks trails only third-round rookie Yannick Ngakoue (6.0) for the lead in Jacksonville.

On this second-and-12 below, Jackson’s quick hands and feet allow him to beat right guard John Miller on the outside for the sack on Taylor.

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12:00 PM, 12/11 (FOX)
Minnesota 6-6
Jacksonville 2-10

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