Nick Mullens has a "good chance" of returning Sunday night as the No. 2 quarterback against the Broncos, Vikings head coach Kevin O'Connell said Friday.

Mullens has missed five games due to a lower back tightness. Coaches liked what they saw from the 28-year-old Mullens during three limited practices and separate throwing sessions throughout the week. He's one of five players listed as questionable against Denver with receiver Justin Jefferson (hamstring), running back Alexander Mattison (concussion), linebacker Brian Asamoah II (ankle) and guard Chris Reed (foot).

The Vikings ruled out cornerback Akayleb Evans (calf) and quarterback Jaren Hall (concussion). Hall, the fifth-round rookie, will miss a second straight game due to the head injury suffered in his first NFL start on Nov. 5 against the Falcons.

"Just not quite there yet," O'Connell said. "Out of precaution, we're just allowing Jaren to finish up the last phases of that protocol and hope to have him next week."

Evans' absence leaves the Vikings down two starting defenders after linebacker Jordan Hicks was placed on injured reserve following leg surgery this week. Rookie cornerback Mekhi Blackmon could replace Evans in his first NFL start. Second-year corner Andrew Booth Jr. has also played sparingly.

During the portion of Friday's practice open to reporters, Evans backpedaled and cut on his injured right calf while working on a side field with a trainer. He said Thursday he was "progressing really well" and expects to have a chance to play on Nov. 27 against the Bears.

"They've had me in the pool walking, doing different exercises, seeing how it feels," Evans said.

O'Connell said he anticipated Mattison, who was pulled from last week's game by an independent spotter, clearing the concussion protocol before Sunday's kickoff. Receiver K.J. Osborn and defensive tackle Dean Lowry are cleared to return and carry no injury designation into the game. Linebacker Anthony Barr, who re-signed to the practice squad this week, could be elevated Saturday in the first game without Hicks.

But Jefferson remained limited in his second week practicing. He reiterated Thursday that he won't play until his right leg is "not feeling sore" after practices.

Starting Broncos safety Kareem Jackson is returning from a two-game suspension for illegal hits that have led to two ejections this season. Reserve safety P.J. Locke (ankle) has been ruled out.

'No bad blood' for Risner

Denver drafted left guard Dalton Risner, then a Kansas State tackle, in the second round in 2019. He made 62 of 65 possible starts for the Broncos before they let him walk in free agency last offseason. But Risner, who will make his fifth Vikings start on Sunday night, said there's no ill will.

"They drafted me, let me play for them for four years," Risner said. "I'm thankful for that. There's no bad blood, man. I'm a Minnesota Viking now. We'll see if I get welcomed with open arms or if I'm booed out of the stadium. I'm an emotional player as you all have seen. I'm going to use my emotion to play harder."

An 'explosive' returner in Denver

Vikings special teams coordinator Matt Daniels said he's confident in his unit's ability to handle the altitude and any possible winds within Empower Field at Mile High after ending the 2022 preseason in Denver, where Daniels said punter Ryan Wright had one of his best games. But the Vikings have a new challenge in Broncos punt returner Marvin Mims Jr., whom rookie defensive backs Jay Ward and NaJee Thompson will be tasked with chasing as punt gunners.

Mims, a second-round rookie, has gained 17, 27 and 31 yards in his last three punt returns. He's one of just two players with a kickoff returned for a touchdown. Denver is averaging a starting field position around its 30-yard line, ranking 10th in the league.

"He jumps out all over the tape," O'Connell said. "Explosive, great vision, breaks tackles. Some of those returns have gotten them that great starting field position."


  • Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow had a season-ending torn ligament in his wrist, head coach Zac Taylor told Cincinnati reporters on Friday. The Vikings travel to Cincinnati in Week 15. Former Vikings quarterback Jake Browning replaced Burrow on Thursday in the Bengals' loss to the Ravens.