As the Vikings head to Lambeau Field on Sunday, they will have to hope they can stop the Packers’ offense without a great deal of depth at the cornerback position.
Mackensie Alexander, who dislocated his right elbow Sunday against the Falcons, won’t play against the Packers, and Mike Hughes — who is still working his way back from the torn ACL he sustained last October — doesn’t appear likely to make his return against Green Bay. He is listed as doubtful for the game.
It means the Vikings could turn to safety Jayron Kearse (who stepped in for Alexander last week against Atlanta) on a regular basis as their slot corner. The 6-foot-4 Kearse has played in the Vikings’ big nickel package the past two years, providing a more physical presence against the run, and has been used primarily in zone coverage when opponents throw on the Vikings while he is in the game. The Vikings also added Nate Meadors back to their active roster Thursday, giving the team another option at defensive back with Alexander out.
Asked about the Vikings’ cornerback depth Friday, coach Mike Zimmer said, “I feel good. This isn’t the first time we’ve had some DBs out, so we’ll go out and play good.”
While the nickel position provides unique challenges for a big safety, Kearse acknowledged earlier this week, he said he is up to the task.
Guard Pat Elflein was listed as questionable because of a knee injury; the Vikings likely would use Dakota Dozier at left guard if Elflein is unable to play. Cornerback Mark Fields is questionable for the game with a groin injury, as is linebacker Ben Gedeon.
Gedeon had not been on the injury report before Friday, indicating he was likely injured in Friday’s practice.
Thielen wins NFLPA community award
Wide receiver Adam Thielen was named the NFL Players Association’s Community MVP for Week 1 of the season, after his foundation launched a program Tuesday to upgrade athletic equipment and provide scholarships for students at Brooklyn Center High School.
Thielen and his wife Caitlin appeared at the high school Tuesday to announce the program, which included upgraded weight-room equipment, a $10,000 donation for new athletic gear, a $1,000 scholarship to a varsity athlete from each team at the school and more.
Thielen’s foundation donated $50,000 to the school, and could have more in store for the school — such as new lights for a football field that currently doesn’t have any that work.
The NFLPA donated an additional $10,000 to Thielen’s foundation as part of the award, and set up a Pledge It page where fans can donate to the foundation. Thielen will also be eligible for the Alan Page Community Award — the NFLPA’s highest off-field honor — at the end of the 2019 season.
Tackle O’Neill has ‘continued to improve’
Last year’s Week 2 tie at Lambeau Field was Brian O’Neill’s first game in the NFL, and kicked off a season where the Vikings had to lean on their second-round pick more frequently than they expected as a rookie.
O’Neill returns to Green Bay a year later as an established starter, and though he will see plenty of the Packers’ new pass rushers (Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith), his coach thinks he is up to the challenge.
“I think it helps that he’s athletic and smart,” Zimmer said. “When he came in here initially, I think he had to get used to the physicality and the speed of the NFL. You could see it coming throughout the course of last year and the beginning [of this year], and he’s just continued to improve from there.”