Vikings rookie left tackle Christian Darrisaw's NFL education will continue Sunday in Carolina, where he may be in another rotational role with Rashod Hill, if not become the starter after making his debut last week against the Lions.
Experience is the best teacher, and Darrisaw needs a lot after the 23rd overall pick missed most of training camp, the preseason and three regular-season games because of a core muscle injury that appears to be behind him. Coach Mike Zimmer briefly chuckled when asked if it's helpful to finally evaluate Darrisaw's game reps. He got 28 against Detroit.
"We'll get him some more this week, probably," said Zimmer, who added a decision on Darrisaw's role would be made Friday.
Darrisaw drew the Vikings' first-round attention because of rare physical gifts that include light feet and 34 ¼-inch arms, giving him a long wingspan to keep edge rushers at bay. During his first game in 10 months, Darrisaw showed off the athleticism at a listed 315 pounds that's expected to help open lanes for running back Dalvin Cook.
"He could get to the backside guy and cut him off," Zimmer said. "He could get to the backside linebacker. Just the quickness that he has."
Darrisaw's talents have been apparent to co-defensive coordinator Andre Patterson as the rookie is now in his third straight week of full practices.
"He's got good feet for a big man," Patterson said. "He's strong, he can anchor. He's got strong hands on him. He has the ability to grab and hold you. So for him, it's just going to be getting reps, getting as much reps as he possibly can to continue to improve."
Six players sidelined; Cook practices
Six Vikings players were sidelined by injury at Wednesday's practice: linebacker Anthony Barr (knee), nose tackle Michael Pierce (elbow), receivers Justin Jefferson (ankle) and Adam Thielen (foot), tight end Ben Ellefson (knee) and running back Alexander Mattison (shoulder). All five jogged through warmups with teammates before leaving the field. Defensive end Everson Griffen was given a vet day off.
Although Mattison was out, running back Dalvin Cook appears on track to return after practicing on Wednesday. He was listed as a limited participant. Cook ran smoothly through warmups and while taking handoffs from quarterback Kirk Cousins during the portion open to reporters. He practiced only once last week, on Friday, before a brief pregame test led to being inactive.
"I feel good," Cook said before practice. "Going to keep attacking my rehab, getting stronger, getting back to being me."
Griffen to remain starter
Griffen will remain in the starting lineup, according to Patterson, after the 33-year-old veteran surprised just about everybody, including his position coach of seven years, with how well he has played upon returning to Minnesota in late August.
He replaced D.J. Wonnum as a starter against the Lions, and was dominant against rookie left tackle Penei Sewell with six quarterback pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. His snap count is a number Patterson wants to keep manageable after Griffen played a season-high 72% vs. Detroit. It's hard to pull him out, Patterson admitted, when he's exceeding expectations.
"Because you judge him how he played on the other two teams, and to me he didn't look like the Everson that I know and love," Patterson said. "But I'm very pleased with where he is. He looks like the Ev of 2017, 2018, and my job is to try to make sure that I keep that the way that it is."
More for Herndon on deck?
The Vikings' No. 2 tight end, Ellefson, is dealing with a knee injury that kept him out of Wednesday's practice. The team also added another tight end, Luke Stocker, to the practice squad, and placed a practice squad "protection" on tight end Brandon Dillon, meaning no other team can sign him away this week.
Perhaps more will be required from tight end Chris Herndon, who has played just seven snaps in each of the past two games as the No. 3 option. It's been an underwhelming start for Herndon, who has not caught a pass since the Vikings sent a fourth-round pick to the Jets for him and a sixth-round pick.
Tackle Zack Bailey was released from the practice squad to make room for Stocker, an 11th-year veteran who was most recently with the Titans this preseason.