After entering the year with two new starters on the offensive line, the Vikings will head into Week 2 with another change.
Right guard Pat Elflein, who hadn’t been on the team’s injury report before Thursday, was placed on injured reserve after missing Thursday’s practice with what is reportedly a thumb injury. The Vikings would have had to list Elflein’s specific injury on their Thursday injury report; the fact they placed him on injured reserve before they issued their injury report meant they did not have to publicly disclose the injury, much like when they placed Danielle Hunter on IR last week before they would have had to disclose the neck injury that coach Mike Zimmer would only describe as a “tweak” during Hunter’s three-week absence in training camp.
The NFL altered its injured reserve rules for 2020 because of COVID-19, allowing teams to activate players from injured reserve after just three weeks, though a timetable for Elflein’s return is unclear. He was watching the Vikings’ practice in sweats on Thursday afternoon, indicating his injury must have happened between Wednesday’s practice and the start of Thursday’s practice.
With Elflein out, the Vikings could turn to second-year man Dru Samia at right guard on Sunday in Indianapolis. Rookie Ezra Cleveland could also play there, though Samia might be in line to get the first look after coaches sounded hopeful about his progress earlier this offseason.
Without Hunter on Sunday, the Vikings had little success pressuring Aaron Rodgers. They blitzed him on 20 of his 44 dropbacks, according to Pro Football Focus, but were able to pressure the quarterback just seven times.
The Vikings had a few opportunities to get to Rodgers that they didn’t finish, co-defensive coordinator Andre Patterson said. But the quarterback’s release time (an average of 2.25 seconds, per PFF) had as much to do with it as anything.
“He’s already in shotgun, he’s taking one step and he’s throwing it,” Patterson said. “So what’s got to happen is, we’ve got to be tighter in coverage to make him pull the ball down and give the rush a chance to get there.”
The Vikings brought safety George Iloka back for a second stint in Minnesota, adding him to their practice squad on Thursday.
Iloka played for Mike Zimmer in Cincinnati, and the Vikings had pursued Iloka in free agency in 2016, before bowing out of the bidding once it got too expensive.
Iloka signed with the Vikings after the Bengals released him in 2018, and he played 16 games with the team that year. But he played only 11 defensive snaps after getting benched for a blown coverage in a Week 8 loss to the Saints.
He had been out of football, working on building his own podcast, before the Vikings brought him in for a tryout last month. The team took advantage of the NFL’s 2020 rules allowing clubs to put veterans on their practice squads, adding Iloka for depth behind Harrison Smith, Anthony Harris and Nate Meadors.