Adam Thielen’s return to the Vikings lineup on Sunday in Los Angeles would be too soon for the Chargers and for a fantasy football general manager inside the receiver’s inner circle.
“My best friend said he was playing against me,” Thielen said, “so keep out a couple more weeks.”
Sorry, bud. Thielen strung together a second consecutive practice Thursday, running through receiver drills and routes for quarterbacks Kirk Cousins and Sean Mannion during the portion open to reporters. After his second consecutive limited practice, Thielen said he’s in a “good spot” with a right hamstring injury. He hit setbacks Nov. 3 in Kansas City and during a Nov. 26 outdoor practice that have kept him sidelined, for the most part.
Thielen referenced finding the proper “progression” during practices when asked what he’s learned ahead of this attempted return. The plan this week, according to Thielen, is to reach game speed in practices to ensure his leg is fully healed. He played seven snaps during the Vikings’ 26-23 loss in Kansas City, his first return, before leaving the game.
“Being smart, taking the right progression to get back onto the field on Sunday,” Thielen said. “Everything has gone well so far. I’m very happy with the progression, and we’ll see how [Friday] goes.”
Barring another setback, Thielen could return the Vikings’ 11th-ranked offense to full strength for the first time since Oct. 13 against the Eagles — a week before he was injured in Detroit.
“It opens up more things in the running game,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “If they want to crowd the box, you’ve got more chances to hit guys on the outside. We’ve been doing a nice job of manufacturing plays when guys aren’t in there. [Stefon] Diggs has stepped up big, the tight ends have done a nice job and also the runners. Yeah, I think it could be even better.”
Cousins was just finding his stride in Detroit when he threw the 25-yard touchdown pass to Thielen, who injured a hamstring on the play. Two months later, Cousins takes a career-best 112 quarterback rating (second in the NFL) to Los Angeles with the chance of returning a two-time Pro Bowl receiver.
Plug and play, right?
“The only thing you’re worried about is, ‘Hey we’ve got a good rhythm going,’ ” Cousins said. “It does feel different when you have him back. It has a different dynamic. You just joke with him, ‘Hey don’t rock the boat too much, we’ve been doing pretty good.’ But I’d like to think that Adam Thielen is going to help our offense. If nothing else, the corners, the safeties, the linebackers, the defense, they have to honor the fact he’s on the field opposite Stefon Diggs.”
A stingy Chargers defense, with the recent return of safety Derwin James, could make Sunday difficult for the Vikings. Los Angeles has allowed just two 300-yard passers this season, and none — while facing Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers — in the past two months. The Chargers’ premier edge-rushing duo in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram also poses problems.
But Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said the Vikings have a different Cousins than the Washington quarterback who lost 30-13 to Lynn’s Chargers two years ago.
“It’s a system I’m very familiar with, and Cousins is kind of spreading the wealth,” Lynn said. “He’s moving around a lot. He’s extending some plays. He’s throwing with some good accuracy. He just looks a lot more comfortable this time around than when I played him last time.”
Thielen said he’s also improved despite being sidelined, learning how to manage soft-tissue injuries. He said he hadn’t missed a Vikings practice, let alone a game, in six seasons before this fall.
“It’d probably take me 30 minutes to explain everything, but I’ve learned a lot just about myself, about the process, about the injury, about different resources,” Thielen said. “There’s a lot that goes into it, but when you’d never missed a game you just don’t have to worry about that.”