While the Vikings welcomed Everson Griffen back to practice Wednesday, they were still without several key starters on their first full day of preparations for Sunday night’s game against the Saints.
Running back Dalvin Cook, who has missed four of the Vikings’ past five games because of a hamstring injury, did not practice and is not expected to return for this week’s game. The Vikings were also without linebacker Anthony Barr because of a hamstring injury and cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who limped off the field because of a sprained ankle Sunday against the Jets.
Rhodes’ availability could be of particular concern to the Vikings as they prepare to face Saints receiver Michael Thomas. The third-year wideout has 53 catches for 588 yards in six games this season, and caught seven passes for 85 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the Vikings in last year’s NFC divisional playoff game, during which Rhodes covered him for much of the game.
The Vikings did get potential help along both lines of scrimmage, with nose tackle Linval Joseph and left tackle Riley Reiff returning to practice. Joseph, who missed the Jets game because of ankle, knee and shoulder injuries, was limited. He was listed with only ankle and knee injuries on the first injury report of this week.
Reiff was also limited because of the foot injury that’s caused him to miss the Vikings’ past three games. He declined to speak to reporters when approached in the locker room.
As the Vikings face the Saints for the third time in 13 months Sunday night, Zimmer will again match up with Saints coach Sean Payton, his friend from when the two worked together in Dallas on Bill Parcells’ staff and one of the more unpredictable play-callers in the NFL.
“Indiscriminate,” Zimmer said when asked to assess Payton’s offense, before expanding on that assessment.
“[He will] call anything at any time. Call anything. Second-and-1, he might be in no backs. Play-action shots on first possession. It doesn’t matter,” Zimmer said. “Formations, movements, personnel groupings, he doesn’t care. I don’t think he cares about down and distance.
“Sean’s good. Sean is a good coach. He’s a good friend of mine. I know we went against each other a lot of times when we were in Dallas — we didn’t really go against each other in Dallas, practice all the time. He’s innovative, he’s smart, and he finds good matchups. He uses players in great ways. Their tempo — they’ll spring four guys on the field, and they’ll get to the line of scrimmage and snap the ball. They want to take the defense’s breath away is really what they want to do.”
Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson never played in Minnesota with Teddy Bridgewater, but he was on the field with the quarterback for one of his most memorable victories in a Vikings uniform.
Bridgewater, who will return to Minnesota as the Saints’ backup QB, diagnosed a Jets blitz at the line of scrimmage and hit Jarius Wright with a short pass that turned into a game-winning 87-yard touchdown in the 30-24 overtime victory in 2014, when Richardson was in the middle of a Pro Bowl season in New York.
He had three sacks that day — “That’s the last time I had a multi-sack game,” he recalled — but Bridgewater got the better of the Jets with 309 passing yards and a pair of touchdowns, including the game-winner.
“Very elusive in the pocket. Somewhat accurate,” Richardson said. “They beat us. They definitely beat us.”
On Bridgewater’s game-winning touchdown, Richardson gave chase to Wright along the right sideline at TCF Bank Stadium, but couldn’t corral him in time.
“I did chase him down. I just didn’t catch him,” Richardson said. “It was an attempt.”