The interior of the Vikings offensive line will change again Sunday against the Rams as Mason Cole, who started the past seven games at center and right guard, was placed on injured reserve Friday.
Cole didn't practice this week after suffering a hyperextended elbow while playing 64 snaps against the Bears on Monday night in Chicago. Coach Mike Zimmer called it a "three-week injury," indicating Cole could return if the Vikings make the playoffs.
Oli Udoh could replace Cole at right guard against the Rams, but Zimmer didn't tip the team's plans when asked Friday. Coaches are waiting to see whether they will have wide receiver Adam Thielen (ankle) or fullback C.J. Ham (hamstring). Both are listed as questionable after limited practices on Friday.
"Probably ready to see some Udoh [on Sunday]," offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak said Thursday. "Oli's been great for us this year. I can't tell you how important he's been to us, him being able to move around and play a lot of spots. He just keeps getting better every week."
Running back Dalvin Cook has already been ruled out after testing positive for COVID-19 this week.
Udoh started 11 games at right guard before moving to left tackle as an injury replacement. When rookie tackle Christian Darrisaw returned last week from an ankle injury, coaches kept Cole at guard over Udoh. Guard Dakota Dozier, promoted from the practice squad this week, is also an option.
Cole, 25, was acquired via trade from the Cardinals last offseason while entering the final year of his rookie contract. He is set to become an unrestricted free agent in March.
The Rams will have every starter available, a week after having as many as 29 players isolated on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Los Angeles' last isolated starter, tight end Tyler Higbee, was cleared to return on Friday.
Patterson not available
Andre Patterson, the Vikings co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach, tested positive for COVID-19 and will not coach Sunday, according to Zimmer. Assistant defensive line coach Imarjaye Albury will handle Patterson's duties.
Patterson, 61, is symptomatic and, Zimmer said, "struggling a little bit." Zimmer said his longtime friend and colleague is receiving medical treatment but is not hospitalized.
"Hopefully our defensive line plays their rear ends off for him," Zimmer said.
He's the latest Vikings assistant coach ruled out by the NFL's COVID protocols. Senior assistant Paul Guenther and defensive backs coach Karl Scott missed games previously.
'Got the big paw on it'
Special teams coordinator Ryan Ficken experienced the highs and lows during punts against Chicago, leading to some changes heading into Sunday. Not only will rookie Kene Nwangwu be the No. 2 running back behind Alexander Mattison, he will replace someone in punt protection after a Bears defender sneaked between linebacker Blake Lynch and safety Myles Dorn to deflect a punt, Ficken said.
Earlier in the game, defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson broke through Chicago's punt team and got a rare block for the Vikings.
"Got the big paw on it and was able to get a deflection," Ficken said. "They're doing a great job all year. I've always told them it's just a matter of time before we actually get one."