Vikings players and coaches will be spending less time together off the field as the team is back under restrictive COVID-19 protocols after two players this week have been put in quarantine. And while Sunday’s game at noon in Green Bay remains as scheduled for now, the Vikings’ injury-ravaged defense will continue to spend less time together on the field, too.
Linebacker Todd Davis tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday morning, a league source said, and joined cornerback Cameron Dantzler on the team’s reserve/COVID-19 list.
Against the Packers, the 1-5 Vikings will be without cornerbacks Mike Hughes, who was placed on injured reserve Friday with a lingering neck injury, and Holton Hill (foot), as well as Davis, whose positive test requires a minimum five-day isolation. The team has not said whether Dantzler, who was put on the COVID list on Wednesday, is a positive case or high-risk contact of an infected person, but if so, he wouldn’t be available Sunday because of the required five-day quarantine.
The best defense against Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers on Sunday afternoon might be the forecast 25 to 35 mile-per-hour winds at Lambeau Field.
Coach Mike Zimmer acknowledged the difficulty ahead for corners Jeff Gladney, Kris Boyd and Harrison Hand. Packers receiver Davante Adams had 156 yards against the Vikings in Week 1 and is coming off a career-high 196 yards last week in Houston.
“It’s a big challenge,” Zimmer said. “Because they have really good receivers, got a good quarterback. They spread you out. These [corners] are going to have to come out and challenge them.”
Running back Dalvin Cook is listed as questionable to play because of a groin injury sustained in Seattle three weeks ago, but he was able to practice all week.
Zimmer, after Friday’s practice, and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, after Thursday’s practice, said that Cook’s practice reps went well and that he’s expected to play, which is a much-needed boost against the NFC North-leading Packers (5-1).
“We have confidence in [Alexander Mattison], in Ameer [Abdullah], C.J. [Ham], and the other backs,” right tackle Brian O’Neill said. “But just knowing the type of player [Cook] is and the type of electricity he can bring to an offense definitely builds some confidence.”
After Sunday’s game, the NFL will keep the Vikings in the more restrictive COVID protocols through Week 9 against the Detroit Lions, Zimmer said. It is the Vikings’ second time under enhanced protocols. Last month they were among the first NFL teams to adopt them, despite no positive cases, after playing the Titans on Sept. 27 before Tennessee’s COVID-19 outbreak became known.
“We’re just trying to avoid any assembly of people in small, clustered areas,” said Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, in a conference call. “There’s a lot of back and forth discussion with the team about how to best implement those principles.”
Changes include grab-and-go food only. Coaches and players can no longer eat together in the cafeteria or in meetings. Lunches and mask removals must happen outside, and as it gets colder that means inside vehicles in the parking lot. Two daily COVID-19 tests are again required for entry to TCO Performance Center, including a 20-minute wait for point-of-care results every morning. Any small in-person meetings have to be limited and held in big rooms; team meetings have to be moved online. Smaller weight room sessions and limited locker room time is enforced. Face shields have to be worn on helmets during practices.
“It wasn’t too different [Friday],” Zimmer said. “We had to submit how we were going to do [Friday’s] meetings and practice and things like that to the league and have them OK it.”
On the field, the Vikings defense will have to replace roles big and small in the first game since trading Yannick Ngakoue to Baltimore over the bye week.
Defensive end Jalyn Holmes will make his second NFL start replacing Ngakoue. Hardy Nickerson Jr. or Ryan Connelly will have to replace Davis, whose playing time had been increasing since he signed with Vikings in September after Anthony Barr’s season-ending injury. A former leading tackler for the Broncos, Davis played a season-high 30 snaps against the Falcons in Week 6.
At cornerback, Hughes’ neck injury isn’t expected to be season-ending, but he’ll miss at least three games while dealing with an aggravation related to the small fracture in his vertebra that ended his 2019 season, according to a league source.
It appeared the Vikings did not identify any close contacts with Davis among teammates. Other linebackers, including Eric Kendricks and Eric Wilson, were at the facility Friday.
The Broncos also had a positive player case on Friday morning, the team announced. In a statement, the Broncos said they sent home two additional players identified as close contacts and postponed Friday’s practice while moving meetings online. The NFL already had the Broncos in its intensive COVID protocols due to recent exposure.