With all due respect to Adrian Peterson, his absence was overshadowed by Harrison Smith’s presence.
Peterson missed his second consecutive practice on Thursday because of a groin injury, but Smith returned to the field for the first time since suffering an ankle injury vs. the Cowboys on Dec. 1. At this point, with Peterson ineffective and out of sync with the offense and the Vikings defense needing reinforcements heading to Lambeau Field on Saturday, it’s a bigger deal that the Pro Bowl safety Smith appears ready to play again this week as opposed to the former Pro Bowl running back looking more doubtful to play again this season.
“[Smith] moved pretty good,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said after the short outdoor practice.
Smith missed the win at Jacksonville and Sunday’s home loss to Indianapolis. Anthony Harris, an undrafted second-year player, held his own against the Jaguars but struggled in coverage throughout the 34-6 loss to the Colts.
“Harrison is a good player,” Zimmer said when asked if Smith’s experience in the secondary will help when facing Aaron Rodgers and a Packers team that’s 8-6 after winning four games in a row.
“I mean when he plays he’s more instinctive, he plays faster, he’s a physical tackler, a good blitzer, a good cover guy. I don’t think it’s just experience. I think it’s he’s a good player.”
Smith was listed on Thursday’s injury report as having limited participation. He said the ankle feels better but stopped short of announcing anything about his injury status without Zimmer doing so first.
“I’m still not sure [I’ll play],” Smith said. “We’ll see what the coaches think and leave it up to them.”
Considering how well Smith moved in the open portion of practice, look for him to play in a must-win game. The Vikings need a win and a Buccaneers loss on Saturday to take their slim playoff chances with them into Week 17.
“As a competitor, for me, it’s harder not to be out there than to push through [injuries],” Smith said. “But there’s a point where you just can’t play, and you got to be smart about it. … You have to find what works.”
As for Peterson, he returned last week after spending 11 games on injured reserve because of a torn meniscus. The knee apparently held up, but the groin didn’t during a 12-snap game that saw him carry the ball only six times for 22 yards with a red-zone fumble.
Asked if Peterson will play, Zimmer said, “I don’t know. We’ll see.”
Diggs returns, Fusco sits
Receiver Stefon Diggs returned to practice on a limited basis after sitting out Wednesday because of a hip injury.
Meanwhile, right guard Brandon Fusco looks doubtful to play Saturday after missing another practice because of a concussion — his second of the season — that knocked him out of the Colts game.
Receiver Laquon Treadwell was on the field with a helmet during the open portion of practice. But he was listed as having no participation again on Thursday.
Players going from limited in Wednesday’s practice to full participation on Thursday were cornerbacks Trae Waynes (concussion) and Mackensie Alexander (abdomen). Still limited was fullback Zach Line (concussion).
Gimpy Rodgers still good
Rodgers went into last Sunday’s game at Chicago with concerns about his left hamstring and right calf. But he showed from the start that he still had enough mobility to extend plays. Facing third-and-2 in 11-degree weather on the opening drive, Rodgers moved laterally and stepped up to fire a first-down pass. He also ran three times for 19 yards, including back-to-back runs of 7 and 8 yards in the red zone to set up a third-quarter field goal.
“He looked a little bit gimpy in some of it [early on],” Zimmer said. “But even when he’s gimpy, he’s pretty mobile. And naturally as the game got going more he looked like he had loosened up.”