The Vikings will need to find other ways to pester Aaron Rodgers up the middle without Tom Johnson.
Johnson, the slithery pass-rushing defensive tackle, is among the Vikings’ leaders in quarterback hits, even though he had only two sacks in 14 games. He racked up four of their eight hits on Rodgers during the Vikings’ 17-14 win over the Packers on Sept. 18.
The Vikings will be without Johnson on Saturday at Green Bay because he suffered a season-ending hamstring injury against Indianapolis on Sunday.
“He’s a big key to our defense as far as pass rush and being able to have some depth in the rotation,” defensive end Brian Robison said. “Obviously that’s going to be very missed.”
Johnson, who has played 51 percent of snaps this season, was a primary reason the Vikings could withstand the loss of Sharrif Floyd. They’ve leaned on Johnson and Robison to create an interior push, which has helped produce 35 sacks this season.
But Robison’s plate is nearly full, having already moved to a tackle role on passing downs last season after injuries to Floyd and Linval Joseph. Robison, 33, is on pace to play at least 75 percent of snaps for a sixth consecutive season.
With two of their best pass-rushing tackles on injured reserve, the Vikings will turn to third-year run stopper Shamar Stephen and newcomer Toby Johnson, who initially made the practice squad this season.
“We’re going to have to continue to find some more ways,” coach Mike Zimmer said.
‘Coast a little bit’
Zimmer further explained his critique of linebacker Anthony Barr on Wednesday.
“Anthony sometimes has a tendency to coast a little bit,” Zimmer said. “I think when he cuts it loose a little bit more, I think that’s when you make the explosive plays and the kind of ‘wow’ plays.”
Barr, the ninth-overall draft pick in 2014, is fifth on the team in tackles and has four pass deflections, two sacks and a forced fumble. Asked about Zimmer’s comments, Barr said: “That’s his opinion, and you’ve got to respect it.
“You want to do your job and you want the plays to come to you, and sometimes they don’t come to you. You’ve just got to make the ones that do.”
Diggs, Smith not practicing
Four starters did not practice Wednesday, only two days before the team travels to Green Bay.
Receiver Stefon Diggs (hip), running back Adrian Peterson (knee, groin), safety Harrison Smith (ankle) and guard Brandon Fusco (concussion) were held out.
Smith took part in warmups before exiting the practice field, a sign of progress since he has been held out for three weeks. Fusco has not practiced since suffering his second brain injury of the season on Dec. 11 in Jacksonville.
Cornerback Trae Waynes returned and was limited. He’s one of three Vikings in the concussion protocol; Fusco and fullback Zach Line are the others.
Joseph was not directed to leap over the Indianapolis long snapper on Sunday, but special teams coordinator Mike Priefer has been asked by a few players eager to block a field-goal attempt.
“A couple guys, I think about 20 guys, have told me they could do that,” Priefer said. “They have the athletic ability to do that. That wasn’t called. … He was trying to make a play, and he made a mistake. That’s going to happen.”
Cornerback Xavier Rhodes received some recognition from Zimmer after he was one of the four Vikings to make the initial Pro Bowl roster.
“I think it’s good for Xav,” Zimmer said. “Of all the guys that made it, I’m most proud of him and the way he’s kind of continued to improve.”
Smith, Everson Griffen and Cordarrelle Patterson were the other Vikings to make the Pro Bowl.