The Vikings' new-look defensive line is expected to debut during Saturday's preseason game against the Colts, including the returns of defensive end Danielle Hunter and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, and the debuts of defensive tackles Michael Pierce and Dalvin Tomlinson.
Richardson, who has started in 118 of his 121 NFL regular-season games, is expected to come off the bench for the first time in his pro career. The former Pro Bowl defensive tackle will likely be deployed in pass-rushing situations, and he said he'll patiently wait until then.
"When they call my number," Richardson said Thursday, "I'll play football. It's just that simple. It's that time of the season for me, and we'll leave it at that."
Except for Hunter and defensive end Stephen Weatherly, Richardson is getting accustomed to playing with his new defensive line teammates who weren't here during his first stop with the Vikings in the 2018 season.
"Got to work hand in hand," Richardson said. "Otherwise, if you've got an all-star rusher, he's not going to be an all-star rusher without help. You need everybody's hands – all hands on deck – to be a great defensive line."
Vigil added to DNP list
The Vikings had just seven linebackers at Thursday's walkthrough practice, with presumed starter Nick Vigil the latest absence at a thinning position. Anthony Barr has not practiced all week, saying only he has "some things I've got to take care of." Zimmer has been equally vague about his star defender's absences.
Six other players were held out, including left tackle Christian Darrisaw (groin), tight end Tyler Conklin (hamstring), guard Dru Samia (undisclosed), running back Kene Nwangwu (knee), nose tackle James Lynch (ankle) and defensive end Patrick Jones II (undisclosed).
Vigil is expected to replace Eric Wilson as the weak-side linebacker to start the season. Without him or Barr on Thursday, Troy Dye and Ryan Connelly joined Eric Kendricks on the first-team defense. Blake Lynch, and rookies Chazz Surratt, Tuf Borland and Christian Elliss were the only other available linebackers.
Receiver Dede Westbrook has ramped up his workload as he's 10 months removed from a torn ACL. Westbrook, expected to help as a No. 3 receiver option and punt returner when healthy, participated in 11-on-11 drills for the first time Thursday.
Left tackle on the mend
Darrisaw, the 23rd overall pick, was given a two- to-three week recovery timeline by Dr. William Meyers of the Vincera Institute for the Aug. 12 operation he underwent in Philadelphia for his lingering groin injury, according to a source.
That puts Darrisaw on track to practice before the Vikings' Sept. 12 season opener in Cincinnati; however, the team could ease him back as he has struggled to overcome the injury that was first operated on by Meyers in January. The latest operation required a minor incision, the source said, to alleviate pain on his left side.
'I respect his decision'
Before Cam Smith announced his retirement Wednesday, Zimmer tried to make sure the 24-year-old linebacker wasn't making a hasty decision. Smith, the 2019 fifth-round pick, returned from open-heart surgery a year ago to start last Saturday's preseason game against Denver, but suffered a concussion in the loss. On Wednesday, Smith said in his announcement that he'd been asking his body to do "too much" to play football.
"I respect his decision," Zimmer said. "What I said to him was basically, you know, that he was out here every day for practice [and] had a script; loves the game. I said, 'Take a few days and think about it, you don't have to make this decision now,' and he was pretty set on it, so. He's a good kid."