The Vikings defense should be getting reinforcements on Thursday night against the Steelers after cornerback Patrick Peterson was activated from the COVID-19 list on Tuesday and linebacker Anthony Barr declared he's returning to the lineup from knee and hamstring injuries.
Linebacker Eric Kendricks, Barr and Peterson were full participants in Tuesday's practice as coach Mike Zimmer appears poised to have three starters back after the defensive letdown in Detroit.
"It's good to get all of the gang back," safety Xavier Woods said. "It's a blessing to be able to have at this point."
Despite the short turnaround for the Thursday night game, the Vikings' 30th-ranked defense will have its most starters available since the Oct. 3 loss to Cleveland when all but Barr played. That was the game they lost nose tackle Michael Pierce to an elbow injury. Pierce just returned on Sunday against the Lions.
Peterson is returning after missing his fourth game of the season, the previous three to a hamstring injury last month. He'd tested positive for COVID-19 last week and was cleared to return Tuesday.
Returning Barr and Kendricks also reopens Zimmer's defensive playbook a little bit more after second-year linebackers Blake Lynch and Troy Dye played larger roles in Detroit.
"It's just different players when you've got two really good linebackers in there," Zimmer said. "[Then] you find out the day before the game that some guys have got to play different spots, it's tough on them."
Running back Dalvin Cook was limited in his return to practice for the first time since dislocating his left shoulder against the 49ers. The Vikings offense may be without receiver Adam Thielen and left tackle Christian Darrisaw against the Steelers. Both are dealing with ankle injuries and did not practice Tuesday.
Darrisaw, who missed the Detroit game and caused a reorganization of the Vikings' offensive line, walked into the indoor practice field with a significant limp on his taped right ankle. He stood with teammates during special teams drills, the only portion open to reporters and was officially listed as a non-participant.
Depending on who's available, Oli Udoh will remain at left tackle, said Zimmer, who evaluated the reconfigured offensive line as "all right" against the Lions.
In comes a more talented defensive front in Pittsburgh with edge rusher T.J. Watt, who leads the NFL with 16 sacks.
"He's not by himself," Zimmer said of Watt. "They've got some other guys, too, but he's a game-wrecker. He always seems to make big plays. Obviously, a terrific rusher, but he's very violent and physical."
Dantzler at fault on final play
Cornerback Cameron Dantzler had a particularly rough ending to Sunday's loss in Detroit, where Lions quarterback Jared Goff marched 75 yards for the winning touchdown in 110 seconds.
Vikings co-defensive coordinator Andre Patterson said during his weekly KFAN appearance on Tuesday afternoon he was largely disappointed with how the Lions' 11-yard touchdown pass was set up. Multiple defenders, including Dantzler, missed tackles that would've stopped Lions runners in bounds and kept the clock ticking.
And on the final play, Patterson said Dantzler needed to challenge Lions receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown at the goal line and make "the receiver go through you." Dantzler started in front of the goal line, but ran backward as St. Brown approached, creating space.
"We were aligned correctly," Woods said Tuesday. "We just didn't execute."