Mason Cole's play in two starts as the Vikings center has led to coaches pondering whether to keep him in the starting lineup, even as former first-round pick Garrett Bradbury returned to TCO Performance Center on Monday.

"We've had that conversation," coach Mike Zimmer said. "We'll just have to see this week in practice. Bradbury hasn't been here in two weeks, or I think he's missed two weeks now. We're just going to have to sort it out this week. But Mason's done a really nice job. He's done a terrific job. We'll just try to figure this out. It's better than having no options."

Cole has drawn strong reviews from coaches and teammates for his play against the Ravens and Chargers since replacing Bradbury, who was just cleared to return after testing positive for COVID-19 on Nov. 4. But Zimmer stopped short of guaranteeing Bradbury will get his job back. Bradbury, the franchise's highest draft pick at the position, has been inconsistent in 2 1/2 seasons.

Cole also has two NFL starts at guard, along with being the former Cardinals starting center before his trade to Minnesota this offseason. That versatility makes him a valued backup, but the offensive line's weakest link, at times, has been the center.

"I feel pretty confident at any of those three interior spots," Cole said. "Whenever there's an opportunity, if they want to put me in, I feel like I can be successful. And I feel like that's why I was brought here."

Bradbury and guard Dakota Dozier returned to the team's practice facility Monday after bouts with COVID-19. Dozier is "doing good," Cole said, after the 30-year-old was released from the hospital Sunday morning after a four-day stay because of breathing trouble.

"And Garrett is good, too," Cole said. "We handled the chaos the last couple weeks of just not knowing what was going to happen. If anybody was going to test positive and what not, so it's been good in that sense, how we handled the chaos."

Smith set to return vs. Packers

The Vikings could get a few defensive reinforcements. Safety Harrison Smith is expected to return Wednesday, according to Zimmer, so long as he continues to test negative for COVID-19. Linebacker Ryan Connelly is also expected to return this week. Defensive end Kenny Willekes still needs to test negative twice to return.

Cornerback Patrick Peterson is eligible to return from injured reserve this week as he recovers from the hamstring injury suffered Oct. 17 in Carolina. Zimmer only said he's "hopeful" when asked about the chances of Peterson or linebacker Anthony Barr playing against the Packers on Sunday.

With Smith's expected return, safety Camryn Bynum is headed back to a reserve role feeling good about his first two NFL starts. He was credited with 18 tackles (13 solo), one for a loss, a sack and an interception and had a deflection at the goal line in Sunday's win against the Chargers.

"I've just shown I can be a reliable player for this team," Bynum said, "and can hang out there with the defense, showing how much I've learned and obviously there's so much to learn."

Chatting with Deion

During Zimmer's virtual call with Twin Cities reporters on Monday, he answered a call from one of his former players, Deion Sanders, whom Zimmer said he "hadn't been able to get a hold of for like two weeks" because Sanders was in the hospital. Sanders, the Jackson State head coach, said he's "getting better" while dealing with complications from foot surgery. He coached Saturday from a motorized wheelchair. Sanders lauded his old coach after Zimmer's Vikings beat 38-year-old head coach Brandon Staley's Chargers.

"That's a big win my man had [Sunday]," Sanders said. "I picked them. I knew he was going to be dominant [Sunday]. He ain't let no young coach beat you, I know better than that, man."