Vikings safety Harrison Smith and cornerback Patrick Peterson returned to practice Wednesday, while four other players were mysteriously sidelined with non-injury designations ahead of Sunday's game against the Packers.
Right tackle Brian O'Neill, cornerback Mackensie Alexander, defensive end D.J. Wonnum and tight end Chris Herndon were four of six players with "not injury-related" designations, according to the team's official injury report. Those four did not practice, and were not seen by reporters in the fieldhouse at TCO Performance Center.
The other two, Smith and center Garrett Bradbury, were limited as they returned from positive COVID-19 tests. It remained unclear Wednesday afternoon why the other four were being held out. Vikings coaches and players are only available to reporters before practice.
The Vikings have placed eight players on the reserve/COVID-19 list since Nov. 4, the latest being with safety Josh Metellus on Tuesday. The team made no official additions to the COVID list on Wednesday, according to the league's transaction wire.
One possibility is those absent players are being retested for COVID-19 and were sent home as a precaution after initial positive tests that have yet to be confirmed.
Smith and Peterson returned to practice as coaches hope both can play against Green Bay. Smith, who tested positive Nov. 7 in Baltimore, was activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list after the minimum 10-day quarantine required for unvaccinated players who test positive.
Peterson has been designated to return from injured reserve, opening his 21-day practice window. But the expectation since he injured his hamstring Oct. 17 in Carolina is that he would be back after the minimum three-game stay on IR. Smith and Peterson would boost the defense against Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who requires a sophisticated game plan to defend.
"Those are two guys that have played a lot of football and understand what you're trying to do," co-defensive coordinator Andre Patterson said. "But we'll see how the week plays out and whether they can go or not."
Linebacker Anthony Barr (knee) also returned to practice after he was held out last week. He was listed as limited.
Nose tackle Michael Pierce will not play Sunday after being placed on injured reserve before the Chargers game. He'll miss, at minimum, games against the Packers and 49ers before he's eligible to return Dec. 5 in Detroit. Zimmer maintains Pierce can return this season, clarifying he didn't need surgery with the latest move to IR.
"I didn't think it'd be seven weeks or whatever it's been so far," Zimmer said. "I don't anticipate it to be [season-ending]."
No Fun League
The Vikings are one of 13 NFL teams without a taunting penalty called against them this season, but that hasn't stopped Zimmer from pointing out to players that officials are enforcing it leaguewide. He referenced a likely taunt by a Vikings player that went uncalled, perhaps alluding to receiver Justin Jefferson flipping the ball to Chargers receiver Keenan Allen on the sideline after a catch in Sunday's 27-20 win. Jefferson said that was a "friendly thing."
"Oh yeah, I talked about it [Wednesday] in the meeting," Zimmer said. "One happened last week that we didn't get called for, but we probably should of."
Zimmer did so knowing Sunday's referee, Shawn Hochuli, and his crews have flagged taunting in three of their past four games. Only referee Land Clark's crews have called taunting more in 2021.
Cole? Or Bradbury?
While Bradbury returned, center Mason Cole appeared to work with the starting group during an offensive line drill in the portion of practice open to reporters. Swing tackle Rashod Hill stepped in for O'Neill. Zimmer has not named a starting center against the Packers, saying coaches would evaluate the week of practices between Cole and Bradbury.
"Great to have [Bradbury] back," Cousins said. "He's ready to go, had a great walkthrough."
Guard Dakota Dozier was also practicing again just days after being released from the hospital Sunday morning. Dozier, 30, was hospitalized for four days because of breathing trouble stemming from a COVID infection.