The Vikings might be without Joe Berger in Jacksonville after he sat out Thursday’s practice while in the NFL concussion protocol.
Berger, the 34-year-old starting center, did participate in Tuesday’s walk-through and on a limited basis during Wednesday’s practice. However, a recurrence of concussion symptoms for Berger pushed him back to the previous stage of the protocol, according to NFL rules.
The final step before clearance to play requires a player to take part in a full practice without exhibiting any signs or symptoms of a brain injury. The Vikings’ final practice this week is Friday.
“I played center myself, so I understand the importance of being able to go in there and direct things,” offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. “I thought Nick [Easton] did a good job by replacing Joe and he’ll be one week better this week.”
Berger suffered the concussion during the Vikings’ Thanksgiving Day loss in Detroit. He did not practice last week leading up to the Cowboys game, when Easton made his first NFL start.
Should Easton start again, they’ll look to curb the miscues from that outing, which included a botched snap with quarterback Sam Bradford and pressures on two of three sacks allowed. As an offense, the Vikings were flagged for four false starts, though none were against Easton.
“I think if there were errors made [by Easton], he’ll be able to correct them and move on,” Shurmur said. “They’re sometimes magnified at center because you’re directing the whole unit.”
Smith held out again
In the likely event the Vikings are without safety Harrison Smith on Sunday, coach Mike Zimmer said second-year safety Anthony Harris has the current edge over rookie Jayron Kearse.
“I think that’s a little bit of second year [vs.] first year,” Zimmer said.
Harris, who made two starts last season as a rookie, worked alongside starter Andrew Sendejo during Thursday’s practice as the defensive backs walked through various coverages.
Smith (ankle) was one of three Vikings not practicing Thursday, including Berger and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (knee). Floyd is back in the building and was spotted stretching with teammates before practice.
Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer is expecting to return to his normal duties after one game as interim head coach, though this weekend’s trip to Jacksonville still has a different feel for him.
It’ll be a homecoming of sorts for Priefer, who was flying helicopters out of Naval Air Station Jacksonville before the Jaguars were an NFL franchise by 1995. Priefer’s first NFL job came in 2002 with the Jaguars, where he worked under former coach Tom Coughlin as a special teams assistant.
“So, it was a long time ago. I’m dating myself,” Priefer said. “My wife and I had our first apartment there after we got married. My oldest daughter, Samantha, was born there back in 1993, so a lot of good memories.”
Priefer said he hasn’t been asked to do anything extra for Sunday’s game with Zimmer back in the fold.
Optimistic for return
Marcus Sherels (rib) has “very much” been involved in the Vikings’ game plan this week, according to Priefer, after being held out the past two games.
Sherels’ return would boost a Vikings special teams group that struggled with poor punts from Jeff Locke, penalties and a fumble by Adam Thielen last week against the Cowboys. The Jaguars field the NFL’s worst punt coverage team, allowing 13.8 yards per return.
“Since Sherels hasn’t been in, the punt return game hasn’t been as good,” Zimmer said. “We have to correct those things, stop the penalties.”