Two key members of the Vikings defense returned to practice Friday and likely will play Sunday at Atlanta.

Safety Harrison Smith and defensive end Everson Griffen worked out after missing practice Tuesday and Wednesday. Griffen has been dealing with hip and shoulder injuries. Smith injured his left knee injury Sunday.

“I would think so, yeah,” coach Mike Zimmer said, when asked if he expected both to play. “I’d never say no.”

Griffen declared himself ready to play and ready to go. Smith was less direct, talking about trying to get ready.

The only player not practicing Friday was cornerback Trae Waynes, who has an ankle injury. Griffen, Smith and Waynes are all listed as questionable on the team’s injury report. Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (ankle), safety Robert Blanton (ankle), tackle Matt Kalil (toe), quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (left shoulder), and linebackers Anthony Barr (hand) and Eric Kendricks (ribs) all practiced and are probable.

Mutual appreciation

Maybe it was just the post-Thanksgiving glow. But, at practice Friday, Zimmer made a point of going up to NFL rushing leader Adrian Peterson and relaying how much he appreciated the running back’s work.

“I told him today how much I appreciated him,” Zimmer said. “Just everything he does for us. His leadership, the way he comes out to practice the way he prepares. Really, everything.”

Why did Zimmer do that?

“Just, sometimes, I’m nice,” Zimmer said. “I say nice things to guys. It’s not often. But, once in a while, I do.”

Peterson, of course, appreciated the sentiment.

“Yeah, it feels good,” he said. “But, just knowing Coach Zim, I get that sense from him anyway. That he’s appreciative, not only of me, but all the guys as well. And it’s mutual. It’s a mutual feeling.”

Covering Jones

Job No. 1 when it comes to slowing Atlanta’s offense is covering receiver Julio Jones. Jones, coming off three consecutive 100-yard receiving games, has an NFL-best 89 catches and 1,189 receiving yards.

Not an easy job, considering how versatile Jones is.

“They’ve got him everywhere,” Zimmer said. “Z, X, slow, you name it. He’s a tremendous receiver, great athlete, catches the ball good, great size, good blocker. Yeah, he’s tough. You have to be really share with all your coverages.”

At times the Vikings have had cornerback Xavier Rhodes shadow the other team’s top receiver; he did it against Detroit’s Calvin Johnson this season. Zimmer wouldn’t indicate whether that was the strategy this time around.

Divisional matter

Thanks to Chicago’s 17-13 victory at Green Bay on Thursday night, the Vikings went to work Friday in first place in the NFC North, a half-game ahead of the Packers.

Zimmer, of course, said he doesn’t bother thinking about that stuff. “We’re worrying about Atlanta,” he said. That was a company line echoed by the players.

But Peterson admitted to a little joy watching the Packers lose. “That was a good way to end the night, with a Green Bay loss,” he said. “It just makes you lock in and focus, we have to make sure we handle our end here.”

That said, Peterson admitted to being a Bears fan, at least for one night. “I sent a tweet out, a Thanksgiving tweet,” he said. “And, at the end, it was like, ‘Go Bears.’ They pulled it out. That was good for us.”