A seventh different offensive line combination will start for the Vikings on Sunday, their 14th game of the season.
Right guard Brandon Fusco is the latest Vikings lineman to go down with an injury. He’s been ruled out against the Colts after not practicing this week because of his second concussion of the season, suffered during last weekend’s win in Jacksonville. Joe Berger is also working his way through the concussion protocol, but he practiced in full on Friday and could play Sunday. Berger is officially listed as questionable.
The Vikings have a few options to replace Fusco but still will start a new lineup.
Second-year lineman Nick Easton, who twice has started at center for Berger, could remain, with Berger returning to guard. Berger worked between Easton and right tackle Jeremiah Sirles during the open portion of Friday’s practice, seemingly replacing Fusco. Zac Kerin, the third-year undrafted lineman, filled in for Fusco in Jacksonville and could also start.
Either way, the Vikings would welcome Berger’s experience back into the lineup. The 24-year-old Easton has been promising behind the scenes but has made “some mistakes” in protection calls during his first couple of starts, according to coach Mike Zimmer.
Smith, Waynes out
The Vikings secondary will be short two starters in safety Harrison Smith (ankle) and cornerback Trae Waynes (concussion), who have been ruled out.
That means veteran cornerback Terence Newman should have a full day’s work for the first game in a while. Waynes, the second-year 11th overall pick, has gradually taken more of the playing time at left cornerback, playing more than Newman for four straight games before Waynes was injured and pulled after 12 snaps against the Jaguars.
“We try to manage his snaps,” Zimmer said of the 38-year-old Newman. “Trae has earned opportunities to play, so that allowed us to do some of those things.”
Captain Munnerlyn, the Vikings’ slot cornerback, was happy to hear the news that the Associated Press created a “DB” category for this year’s All-Pro voting, which was made to recognize both safeties and cornerbacks who man the slot for their defenses.
Munnerlyn has long told reporters that slot cornerbacks should get consideration in awards like All-Pro or Pro Bowl, which can trigger bonuses in player contracts. They’ve previously been lumped in and overshadowed by outside corners in voting.
“All my campaigning is paying off,” Munnerlyn said with a grin. “The nickel backs need to go ahead and give me a shout-out.”
A mighty matchup
Munnerlyn faces perhaps his toughest test of the season on Sunday in Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton, whose 1,203 receiving yards trail only Julio Jones for the NFL lead.
Hilton lines up all over the field but primarily runs routes out of the slot. A matchup between two desperate playoff contenders could come down to two of the shortest guys on the field in Hilton and Munnerlyn, both listed at 5-9. Hilton leads the league in 20-yard grabs; the Vikings defense allows the second fewest such catches.
“We’re going to have our work cut out for us in the slot,” defensive coordinator George Edwards said. “We’ll have to do some things to take away some of the progressions they’re trying to accomplish.”
• Cornerback Xavier Rhodes was fined $12,154 for his unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty in Jacksonville, which he drew for comments made after a defensive holding penalty.
• After the Seahawks’ 24-3 win on Thursday, the Vikings defense is back to No. 2 in points allowed at 17.3 per game, trailing the Seahawks’ 16.8. The Vikings have not had the NFL’s top scoring defense since the 1971 season.
• Rookie WR Laquon Treadwell (ankle) did not practice this week and has been ruled out for Sunday.