MANKATO – When Vikings coach Mike Zimmer got the phone call early Saturday morning, the first words to pop into his head were “Oh, my God.” He was relieved to hear that one his players, nose tackle Linval Joseph, had suffered only minor injuries in a shooting at a Minneapolis nightclub that left nine people injured, two seriously.
“Thank God he is OK,” Zimmer said Sunday. “He’s a terrific young man. He’s a good, good kid.”
Both Zimmer and General Manager Rick Spielman reiterated the team’s stance that Joseph, one of the team’s prized free-agent signings, was an “innocent bystander” during the shooting, which police say was a gang-related attack in which only one of the victims — not Joseph — was an intended target.
And while there is no timetable for his return to practice, the Vikings believe that Joseph, who was hit in the calf with a bullet, could be back by their Sept. 7 season opener against the St. Louis Rams.
“We expect him to make a full recovery and definitely be ready by the regular season,” Spielman said. “As we communicated [Saturday], what is most important that Linval was not seriously hurt. We’re very fortunate that his injury was just minor, and we also want to send our thoughts and prayers out to all the victims of this shooting.”
Hours after the shooting and a trip to the emergency room, Joseph reported on Saturday with the rest of his teammates to Mankato, where the Vikings are wrapping up Zimmer’s first training camp this week. Team doctors examined him as soon as he arrived, and while he did not practice with his teammates Sunday, he did join them in team meetings and is walking without crutches.
“He is pretty good, really, for the most part,” Zimmer said. “He was in the meeting this morning paying attention to what corrections he needs to make when he is playing. He is a fairly quiet guy anyway. I am sure that it shook up him up like it shook all of us up.”
Both the team and his agent, Bill Johnson, said Joseph is in good spirits. He wasn’t ready to speak with reporters Sunday, but he did release a statement through the team.
“I appreciate everyone’s thoughts and concerns over the past 24 hours,” Joseph said in the statement. “I am extremely thankful that this was a minor injury for me. As the team has communicated, this was an unfortunate situation where I, along with several others, was an innocent bystander to a senseless act. My thoughts are with all of the victims at this time. I am looking forward to getting back onto the field with my teammates in the near future.”
Shortly after the Vikings beat the Oakland Raiders 10-6 in their preseason opener, Joseph and some teammates were sitting at a private table in the back of the 400 Soundbar, according to multiple sources, when the gunman opened fire in the front of the nightclub around 1:40 a.m. After dropping to the floor to find cover, Joseph realized he had been shot in the calf.
While Zimmer preaches to his players that they need to be aware of their surroundings at all times and avoid putting themselves in potentially dangerous situations, both he and Spielman maintained that it was just an “unfortunate situation,” and Spielman said “there was no wrong done by Linval and he just happened to be an innocent bystander.”
Joseph, 25, signed a five-year, $31.25 million deal with the Vikings in March. He played his first four seasons with the New York Giants, who drafted him in the second round in 2010. Joseph has 175 career tackles and nine sacks. He had 59 tackles and three sacks in 2013.
With Joseph sidelined, the Vikings will lean on veteran Fred Evans and youngsters Shamar Stephen and Chase Baker to man Joseph’s nose tackle spot — an important position in Zimmer’s scheme — in practice and during the preseason games.
But on Sunday, his value to the football team was secondary. Fellow players, shocked when they found out about the shooting throughout the day Saturday, are relieved that Joseph is OK.
“It’s a blessing that he’s all right, man,” wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson said.
Added middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley: “Just to have him here, it’s great. Life is precious.”
Staff writer Mark Craig contributed to his story.