The Vikings named Cameron Smith their winner of the 2020 Ed Block Courage Award, after a presumptive positive COVID-19 test for the linebacker led to a series of tests that resulted in open-heart surgery to repair a bicuspid aortic valve defect that likely would have gone undetected otherwise.
"Realizing after the story had come out, realizing how many people have gone through this as well, have known someone that's going through this or is in the process of it, that's really been my inspiration," Smith said Thursday. "That's something that's kept me levelheaded, just knowing there's so many people out there with this same valve issue and so much support has poured in from them, that that's really my inspiration. My motivation is to show this is just a minor bump in the road, and especially with where modern science is at, there's nothing that you can't overcome."
Assuming his recovery continues to go well, Smith is planning to play in 2021, and has been at most of the Vikings' practices during his recovery this year. Head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman had delivered Smith the news about his diagnosis before the season; on Wednesday, when Smith was thinking about staying home from practice, Sugarman was the one to tell the linebacker he'd probably want to show up.
Coach Mike Zimmer announced in a post-practice huddle Smith had won the award.
"I was caught off guard a little bit. I talked to Sug before practice about not going to practice, and he's like, 'No, you should go today,'" Smith said. "So I didn't ask any questions. I wasn't sure what was coming, but I knew there was potentially something. This blew me away. I was not expecting it. It still hasn't really sunk in yet, but it's an honor."
Kubiak: Pace wasn't issue
The Vikings were trailing 17-6 heading into halftime in Tampa on Sunday and fell behind 23-6 after the Buccaneers scored on their opening possession of the second half. But even though the Vikings' lone touchdown drive of the third quarter — a 15-play, 75-yard march — took 8:33 off the clock, offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak said Thursday he didn't think the Vikings needed to pick up the pace sooner than they did.
Minnesota's defense got a quick stop on the Buccaneers' ensuing possession, and the Vikings were in position to pull within a field goal early in the fourth quarter, when Tampa Bay sacked Kirk Cousins on back-to-back plays and Dan Bailey missed a 46-yard field goal with 9:04 left.
After a Buccaneers field goal made it 26-14, the Vikings ran three no-huddle snaps on their final drive, which ended when Cousins was sacked twice in the final three offensive plays.
"I thought we were fine. We had plenty of time with what we were doing," Kubiak said. "We did pick up the tempo in the last drive [of the game] and work on the ball some. You've gotta make up some ground, but we got ourselves in position, what did we have, first-and-goal at the [8-yard line]? Still in a two-score game and plenty of time left in the football game. We just didn't function very good right there. I can make some better calls, we can play better, we go together from that standpoint."
Running back Alexander Mattison practiced Thursday for the first time since an emergency appendectomy Dec. 5, returning to the field in a limited fashion.
Defensive tackle Armon Watts (back) and fullback C.J. Ham (quadriceps) were also limited in their returns to the field, after both missed practice Wednesday.
The Vikings remained without tight end Kyle Rudolph (foot) and linebacker Eric Kendricks (calf), who missed last Sunday's game with injuries. Without practicing Friday, both could be out Sunday against the Bears.