Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes passed the NFL’s concussion protocol this week, and he’s expected to help a depleted secondary Sunday against the Bears. Rhodes was a full participant in Friday’s practice and should start opposite Vikings cornerback Chris Cook.
“We’re pretty thin in the secondary,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said, “and playing with a lot of guys that are out of position that you don’t really want to play as much as we’re having to play them, because it does affect your special teams as well. So to have Xavier back, that’s a big deal.”
Rhodes left Sunday’s tie with the Packers at the start of the overtime and didn’t return because of a concussion. Before the injury, the rookie had his best game of the season with the Vikings sticking to press man coverage for most of the game. He recorded four tackles and four pass deflections.
“I’m not looking to build; I’m just looking to just get better,” Rhodes said.
Listed at 6-1, Rhodes’ size will help the Vikings attempt to stop physical Bears wide receivers Brandon Marshall (6-4) and Alshon Jeffery (6-3). It’s uncertain how much the Vikings plan to continue to incorporate press coverage again, but Rhodes showed he can excel in those circumstances despite his inexperience.
“You’ve got to be able to stay in front of them and don’t let them push you around,” Rhodes said of Marshall and Jeffery.
Keep an eye on
Vikings safety Harrison Smith is on track to return quicker than he, or the Vikings, anticipated after suffering a turf toe injury against the Panthers in Week 6. Smith participated in practice Friday and described it as an encouraging first day.
Since he was placed on injured reserve with the designation to return, the Vikings can’t activate Smith until Dec. 15 against the Eagles — though Frazier wished the NFL rule was different after watching Smith on Friday.
“It’s a good rule, but man, I wouldn’t mind if could play this week,” Frazier said. “He moved around well enough where you’d have no qualms putting him in the ballgame. He looked good.”
Smith said his left foot is stable and expects the remaining pain to eventually go away. He credits his eating habits as one of the reasons for the quick recovery. Smith said he attempted to eat healthier as his father, a doctor, recommended.
“I’m kind of a sucker for fast food,” Harrison said. “I tried to eat clean, and I tried to get some greens in my body. … [My dad] kind of told me a few different things that are essential to build those connections in the tendons, ligaments and joints.”
Bears running back Matt Forte will likely play Sunday despite a knee injury that limited him in practice this week. He was a full participant in Friday’s practice for the first time this week after missing Wednesday’s session. He is listed as probable.
Most pressing question
Rhodes’ return eases some of the depth questions in the Vikings’ secondary, but they didn’t add a cornerback with the roster spot left vacant when cornerback A.J. Jefferson was cut Monday.
Safety Robert Blanton and cornerback Marcus Sherels are Frazier’s options at nickel back. Blanton played 50 of the defense’s 94 snaps against the Packers, Sherels 58.
“It helps us from a depth standpoint,” Frazier said of Rhodes’ return, “and you’re putting a guy at corner who is a corner as opposed to what we’re doing with Robert and what we end up having to do with Marcus, who is more of a spot player, not a guy you want to take 60 snaps.”
Vikings cornerback Josh Robinson (fractured sternum) is still a few weeks away from returning. Frazier said Robinson would start again when he does return, which would place Rhodes back as the nickel corner.
Questionable but ready
The Vikings are about as healthy as they’ve been this season. Tight end Kyle Rudolph and Robinson are the only players expected to miss Sunday’s game.
Wide receiver Joe Webb passed the concussion test and was a full participant in Friday’s practice. Defensive end Brian Robison returned to practice after missing Thursday’s practice because of an illness.