Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.
Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.
Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.
Quarterback Christian Ponder is listed as questionable for the Vikings-Packers game tomorrow because of his sore right elbow. Ponder had limited participation in practice all week.
Cornerback Antoine Winfield is also questionable because of his broken right hand.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said Thursday that he expected both to play.
Tyrone McKenzie, one of the team's top special teams player, is out because of an injured shoulder.
Listed as probable are running back Adrian Peterson (abdomen), safety Harrison Smith (knee), defensive end Brian Robison (shoulder), defensive end Jared Allen (shoulder), cornerback A.J. Jefferson (ankle), defensive end George Johnson (quadriceps), punter Chris Kluwe (left, or non-kicking, knee) and right tackle Phil Loadholt (knee).
Update: For the Packers, defensive end Jerel Worthy (knee) and wide reciever Jarrett Boykin (ankle) are out, and running back James Starks (knee) is questionable.
Cornerback Charles Woodson returns from a broken collarbone and is probable, as are wide receiver Jordy Nelson (knee), receiver/kick returner Randall Cobb (ankle) and running back Alex Green (hip).
Out means a player has no chance of playing (unless he's Brett Favre). Questionable is 50 percent chance. Probable is virtual certainty he will play.
Defensive end Brian Robison and cornerback Antoine Winfield are both officially listed as questionable on the Vikings' injury report for this weekend. But it would take an awful lot to keep either veteran from playing in Sunday's high-stakes rivalry clash against Green Bay.
A win will push the Vikings into the postseason. And so Robison, dealing with a sprained right shoulder, and Winfield, with a broken bone in his right hand, both figure to suit up Sunday and play.
Robison missed last weekend’s win in Houston, working back from a Grade 3 sprain of his acromioclavicular joint. He has been limited in practice all week but has shown signs of progress, leaving head coach Leslie Frazier optimistic about his availability.
“He’s much improved,” Frazier said Friday afternoon.
Robison knows what’s at stake Sunday and will push to be in action. If the veteran end does play, the Vikings will keep a close eye on his activity and productivity with comfort that Everson Griffen provides a nice back-up plan.
Frazier said he would listen closely to how Robison feels about his shoulder discomfort and monitor his soreness on Saturday.
“I want to hear what he has to say,” Frazier said.
Winfield broken the second metacarpal in his right hand in the first quarter last weekend and played the rest of the game with the injury; the fracture wasn’t diagnosed until Monday morning. And while the 14th-year corner will need to play with a wrap and a protective pad on his right hand, that shouldn’t limit him much.
“He showed me today that he can grip with it,” Frazier said. “We feel like he’ll be able to tackle and do what he has to do.”
Those listed as probable on the Vikings’ injury report are: Adrian Peterson (abdomen), Jared Allen (shoulder), Chris Kluwe (knee), Phil Loadholt (knee), Marcus Sherels (quadriceps), Marvin Mitchell (illness).
Several key injury updates for you this afternoon from Winter Park …
Vikings defensive end Brian Robison returned to practice Friday, fighting to push through the discomfort of his Grade 3 shoulder sprain. Robison lined up with the first-team defense in the early parts of practice open to the media and seemed to move around well enough that the Vikings still think he has a chance to start Sunday in Houston.
“He feels better,” head coach Leslie Frazier said. “We’ll talk a little but more about how we want to proceed with him, but he did enough in practice today to create some encouragement amongst our staff and his teammates as well.”
The Vikings will wait to see how Robison feels Saturday after practicing and then undergoing additional treatment Friday for the injury to his acromioclavicular joint.
“We’ve got to see how he feels from some of the things we took him through today,” Frazier said. “So what he has to say will make a difference. We saw some things today that makes us think he may have a chance [to play]. But he has to feel it both mentally and physically.
Left tackle Matt Kalil returned to practice Friday after missing the previous two days due to illness. Kalil was sick enough to stay home from the team facility on Wednesday and Thursday. But to help him study for Sunday’s big test against Houston, offensive line coach Jeff Davidson went to Kalil’s house to help deliver some of the concepts and nuances of the game plan.
“It was kind of funny,” Kalil said. “I don’t think he’s ever been over to my house. But he wanted to make sure I was prepared and just give me the same coaching he’s had in that meeting room since I wasn’t able to be in there.”
Kalil, a California native, admitted he lost a little bit of weight due to the illness and was still fighting to feel 100 percent again.
“My Cali body isn’t used to this cold weather. So it’s something I’ve got to get used to,” he said
Kalil had praise for Houston’s defense, calling end J.J. Watt “a force to be reckoned with” and also complimenting outside linebacker Brooks Reed, a former foe of his from their days in the Pac-12.
Still, while Kalil knows the Texans defense is tough, he also pointed out that their defense isn’t overly complex.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a good week for me to be sick. But they’re pretty simplistic with what they do. … They’re good at running their line games and they’re great at rushing the passer.”
Left defensive end Brian Robison has played 92 of a possible 93 games since the Vikings drafted him in the fourth round in 2007. It's looking more and more like he'll miss another one on Sunday in Houston.
Robison, who suffered a Grade 3 sprain of his right shoulder in last Sunday's win at St. Louis, didn't practice again on Thursday.
"He's making some progress," coach Leslie Frazier said. "We'll see what he can do tomorrow."
Frazier said Robison wouldn't play if he can't show some level of being able to use his right shoulder in Friday's practice.
"We'd have to see him do a little pushing," Frazier said. "We'd have to see him do something because of the nature of the injury and the position that he plays. It's possible, but we'll see tomorrow."
Frazier said the Vikings have had other players who have managed to play with a Grade 3 sprain, but added, "everybody is different."
In other injury news:
Kalil, Peterson and Allen lead Pro Bowl voting: Kalil, Peterson and Allen topped their respective positions among NFC players as the fan voting portion for the Pro Bowl came to an end.
Adrian Peterson’s quest for the NFL rushing record has taken center stage. But there is another pretty good running back to watch in this weekend’s Vikings game: Arian Foster.
Entering this week’s games Peterson has a league-best 1,812 rushing yards, and is within Eric Dickerson’s NFL-record 2,105. But Foster, who first came to the Texans as an undrafted free agent, has put up some strong numbers, too.
Foster is fourth in the league with 1,313 yards. Now, to show just how much Peterson has lapped the field this season, those 1,313 are precisely the same number Peterson has had since Week 7.
Still, Foster’s numbers are impressive. His 1,493 yards from scrimmage is fifth in the league – Peterson’s 2,023 is No. 1 – and if Foster scores a TD this week he will become the sixth player in NFL history to score 50 TDs in his first 50 NFL games.
“The scheme they run really fits what he does well,” Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway said of Foster. "He’s really patient, good at finding cut-back lanes. They throw the ball well out of the play-action game and bootleg game, and that serves Foster well in the run game as well.”
The Vikings have seen their share of good running backs this season, going up against five of the top 10 NFL rushers this season in Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch (second), Washington’s Alfred Morris (third), Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin (fifth), Tennessee’s Chris Johnson (seventh) and Frank Gore of San Francisco (ninth). Lynch ran for 124 yards, Morris had 57, Martin 135, Johnson 24 and Gore 63.
And now they get Foster.
Houston coach Gary Kubiak said he saw some similarities between Foster and Peterson.
“The thing about Adrian is that he has the home run speed,” Kubiak said. “Arian is one of those guys where it seems, the more he carries it, the stronger he gets. These are two guys who, the more they touch it, the more difficult it is to tackle them. Just two great players.”
(Almost) no comment
Christian Ponder’s marriage was not something many Vikings players wanted to discuss in the locker room.
Some, like center John Sullivan and guard Brandon Fusco, simply changed the subject.
“My focus right now is just going and grabbing some lunch and relaxing before practice,” safety Mistral Raymond said. “That should be dealt with somewhere else.”
Fullback Raymond Felton said he heard about it in the media like everybody else. Reaction? “I congratulated him,” Felton said. “Several people have congratulated him. So, obviously, whatever makes him happy we want that for him. It was a big day for him, and we’re happy for him.”
Of course, if anyone was going to have a little fun about the situation, it was punter Chris Kluwe, who wondered openly where he might find a gift registry. As for the present he planned on buying?
“Maybe a tea cozy,” he said.
Wins, not records
After winning NFC special teams player of the week honors for the second time this season, Vikings kicker Blair Walsh talked about winning, not records.
Specifically when he was asked whether he thought about making the Pro Bowl in this, his rookie season. “Yeah, it would be awesome, but that’s not my main goal right now.”
Walsh hit all five of his field goals last week, three in the 50-yards-plus range. He is now 8-for-8 from that distance, which ties him with Morten Andersen and Jason Hanson for most field goals of 50 or more yards in a season. He is one away from holding that record alone.
“I’m just wishing we win,” Walsh said. “I don’t’ care about the records. My whole deal with the records is that they’re meant to be broken. It would be nice to have, but I’d rather win.”
Walsh is 29-for-32 on field goals this season and is fourth in the NFC in scoring among kickers. He said the snap and hold has been perfect for every attempt this season, and that his three misses were entirely his fault.
So the question is, in a dome, in ideal circumstances, what does he think his limit is? “I think 65 (yards) and in I can at least give it a realistic shot,” he said.
Doing his part
Felton said he, along with the linemen and the rest of the team, are pulling for Peterson to break Dickerson’s record. But will he feel he earned a part of that record should it happen?
“A little bit,” he said. “I’ll be able to tell my grandkids about it. So, obviously, I think it’s important for our whole team. And the most important thing is getting wins. But when Adrian is successful that helps our team. That’s what we’re focused on.”
Meanwhile, it appears the work Felton has done has probably put to rest the question of whether Peterson prefers a fullback or running out of one-back sets. Felton said he’d seen a stat that indicated the Vikings gain better than 7 yards per rush with a fullback and 3-plus yards out of one-back sets.
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