Even though Pat Elflein wasn’t practicing on Thursday because of a left thumb injury that has kept him out since September, the Vikings activated him from injured reserve days before their deadline to do so or lose him for the season.
The Vikings had placed Elflein on injured reserve Sept. 17, just before they would have needed to list him on an injury report when he missed practice for the first time. Elflein has been rehabbing the injury for two months after surgery to repair a torn ligament, with inconsistent progress; he practiced in the Vikings’ first session of the week on Thursday, but only went through stretching on Friday.
“I’m sure that’s a conversation coming up here, but what’s happening is Pat’s coming off that thumb surgery, and he’ll have a good practice one day, it’ll bother him a little bit the next day, may miss some time, then he’ll come back,” offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak said. “He’s working through this as he gets back on the field and has been out there a little bit the past couple days, so I just think it’s a work in progress. He’s doing everything he can.”
The Vikings had cleared Elflein to return from injured reserve three weeks ago, meaning they faced a decision at the end of this week whether to put him on the active roster or keep him on IR for the season.
Now, as they continue to monitor Elflein’s health, they’ll have to determine whether the 2017 third-round pick is a better option at right guard than rookie Ezra Cleveland, who has started in the Vikings’ past two wins.
Hopeful on Smith, Ham
Tight end Irv Smith Jr. missed his second day of practice with a groin injury, while fullback C.J. Ham was not seen at practice Friday after warming up with the team on Thursday. The Vikings have listed Ham’s two days of absences as “shoulder/not injury related” on the injury report.
But Kubiak sounded hopeful the Vikings would have both players against the Bears on Monday night.
“We’re trending in the right direction with those guys,” Kubiak said. “Irv moving around a little bit today, I watched him, I think he’s feeling good. I feel good about CJ getting there to Monday. If nothing else, playing Monday gives us a chance with a couple of guys who have been nicked up. We’ll see what happens, but I never worry about those guys being ready to play mentally. They’re both very bright players. It’s all about whether they’re ready to go physically so we’ll see.”
Cornerback Cameron Dantzler again practiced in a limited fashion after the concussion he sustained Nov. 1 in Green Bay kept him out for last Sunday’s win over the Lions. Wide receiver Adam Thielen and defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo were full participants with shoulder injuries.
Long snapper Austin Cutting remains on the COVID-19 reserve list, putting his status for Monday’s game in doubt, but special teams coordinator Marwan Maalouf said the Vikings have “three guys” on their active roster who could be long snappers for punts, field goals and extra points.
The team worked out long snapper John Wirtel this week, but hasn’t signed the Kansas product.
“I really don’t want to say [who they are], just from a strategic standpoint, but at some point when you see it, if you see it, I think you’d be impressed,” Maalouf said. “Guys who’ve been playing for a little while, and sometimes you have to pry it out of them in order to get them to volunteer that, but they’ve been really good about that, and a couple have actually done it in college.”
Linebacker Eric Kendricks did some long-snapping work late last season, though it remains to be seen whether the Vikings would leave the job to a consequential starter like him.
Maalouf said the players the Vikings have been working out are “bigger guys” who’d be able to fit in on the middle of a protection unit.
“You’d be surprised how many offensive linemen who can short snap, or have done it at some point in their career as well, so that’s a good thing,” he said. “And then when you have that big body in there on field goal protection, it helps you out.”