Safety George Iloka all but confirmed he’s set to make his first start for the Vikings defense on Sunday against the Cardinals.
With safety Andrew Sendejo dealing with a groin injury, Iloka practiced alongside safety Harrison Smith throughout the week and said he’s ready to step back into the spotlight now that Sendejo has been ruled out against Arizona.
“Like riding a bike,” Iloka said Friday. “I’ve been in this system and playing the same position I’ve played, for the most part, for my whole career. Obviously, [Smith] is a playmaker, so we’ll see on Sunday what it’s like to play with him.”
Iloka, who signed with the Vikings on Aug. 22 after making 79 straight starts for the Bengals, waited five weeks to make his debut. He played seven defensive snaps last Sunday against the Eagles. He had primarily been a special teams contributor for the first time since he was a rookie in 2012 under then-Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.
“It was different, but I’ve always tried to prepare the same,” Iloka said of watching from the sideline. “I’m still in my routine the way I approach the week and things like, but obviously I’ve gotten more reps because Sendejo has been out this week.”
Running back Dalvin Cook said he’s still “trying to get to where I need to” with his troublesome injured hamstring and he’s listed as questionable to play Sunday against the Cardinals’ second-to-last-ranked rushing defense. Cook was held out last week after trying to play through the injury Sept. 27 in Los Angeles.
Cook, the backfield’s leader with 205 yards from scrimmage, was downgraded to a limited participant in Friday’s practice. He had practiced in full on Thursday.
“That’s the tricky thing with these hamstrings, it’s more of a feel thing,” Cook said Friday. “You have to feel through it each and every day.”
Left tackle Riley Reiff is one of four Vikings ruled out for Sunday, including Sendejo and defensive ends Everson Griffen and Tashawn Bower, meaning both Rashod Hill and rookie Brian O’Neill will step into more prominent roles at left and right tackles.
Hill, a third-year tackle, returns to the left side, where he played at Southern Mississippi. However, it will be just the second time he’ll start at left tackle in the NFL.
A full week of practice on that side helped his confidence, Hill said, heading into a matchup with Arizona All-Pro defensive end Chandler Jones.
“Just a little more confidence,” Hill said. “Trusting my [pass protection] set, getting my feet right. The small details. I just feel better now than when I got thrown into the fire.”
The hard way
Receiver Stefon Diggs hasn’t exactly had great games against the Cardinals. Two years ago, with cornerback Patrick Peterson shadowing him, Diggs put up six catches for 37 yards in a Vikings win. The year prior, Diggs had just two catches for 12 yards against Peterson’s Cardinals in 2015.
While the Cardinals defense allows 391 yards per game this season, Diggs said he doesn’t see any changes in Peterson’s stifling game.
“He’s definitely the same player,” Diggs said. “The defense is different now. They got a lot of different, moving parts and a lot of different guys.”
‘Out of our system’
Vikings kicker Dan Bailey missed two field goals in a game for just the fifth time in his eight-year NFL career, and both player and his position coach — special teams coordinator Mike Priefer — hope he’s moved past issues that led to misses from 28 and 45 yards in Philadelphia last Sunday.
“Hopefully that’s out of our system,” Priefer said.
“We came back [Wednesday] in practice and he was 22-of-22.”