Vikings coach Mike Zimmer does not have a vote for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But if he was asked to choose one player to be immortalized in Canton, it would be Larry Fitzgerald Jr.
“I’d pick him every single time,” Zimmer said this week. “[I appreciate] the way he runs routes, catches, does all the dirty stuff, blocking, getting up after hits and then just taps [defenders] on the butt and goes back to the huddle.”
Fitzgerald, now 33, is still going strong in his 13th NFL season. The Minneapolis native leads the Arizona Cardinals, who play the Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday, with 68 catches, 686 receiving yards and five receiving touchdowns. He has 28 more catches than their second-leading receiver, running back David Johnson.
“He’s obviously an integral part of what they do,” Zimmer said.
The longevity of Fitzgerald, the third overall pick in the 2004 draft, might impress Zimmer most. With 133 receiving yards Sunday, he will crack the NFL’s career top 10 in that category. There is a realistic possibility Fitzgerald could climb as high as sixth or seventh by season’s end.
“He’s a great competitor. He’s tough. He has great physicality,” Zimmer said. “I’m amazed at the number of times he goes in there and blocks and gets wrapped up and hit and all that. His stamina is so great to be able to continue to play.”
Zimmer’s appreciation for Fitzgerald stretched beyond words. The Vikings this week loaded clips of Fitzgerald onto the digital tablets of their young wide receivers, using him as an example of what it takes to be a great all-around receiver in the NFL.
Three starters back
Three Vikings defensive starters returned to practice Thursday.
Cornerbacks Captain Munnerlyn and Terence Newman and middle linebacker Eric Kendricks all practiced, albeit on a limited basis, for the first time this week. The only Vikings player who did not practice was defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd.
Munnerlyn missed last weekend’s 26-20 loss to the Washington Redskins because of a sprained ankle and Kendricks was knocked out of that game because of a hip injury. Newman, meanwhile, missed Wednesday’s practice because of an illness.
Fellow cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who suffered a concussion against the Redskins, practiced for a second consecutive day and looks to be on track to return Sunday.
Kind words for Walsh
Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said Thursday that Blair Walsh “handled himself with professionalism and class” when the Vikings waived the 26-year-old kicker Tuesday. He believes a change of scenery will be good for Walsh.
“At some point he’s going to turn it back on, I think,” said Priefer, who coached Walsh for five seasons. “Going to another place will help him. I truly believe that.”
Walsh never regained his confidence after his infamous 27-yard field-goal miss in the playoffs against Seattle last January. But Priefer believes that in time, Walsh will turn the experience into a positive.
“He’s handled the adversity as best as any young man could and I was real proud of him for that,” Priefer said. “I think he’s going to be better for it in the long run.”
Priefer said NFL experience and a good workout at Winter Park last Tuesday were the main reasons why the Vikings opted to sign Kai Forbath over other kickers.
“He’s always had a real smooth approach,” Priefer said. “He’s under control. He may not have the strongest leg on kickoffs, but he’s an effective kickoff guy as well.”
The Washington Redskins cited kickoffs as one of the main reasons they released Forbath last season. But after considering assigning kickoffs to punter Jeff Locke, who is having his best season as a pro, the Vikings will give those duties to Forbath.
“The way that Jeff is punting right now, I don’t want to mess with his technique,” Priefer said. “That does affect it. It’s a different swing obviously. And Kai’s a good enough kickoff guy that we should be able to handle it, especially indoors.”