For a fleeting moment, Vikings safety Harrison Smith feared the worst when teammate Terence Newman slammed into Smith’s left knee during the first quarter of Sunday’s 30-13 loss to the Green Bay Packers. But after sitting out five snaps, he was able to return and finish the game.
Smith was held out of practice Wednesday. But four days before Sunday’s road matchup against the Atlanta Falcons, he downplayed concerns about the severity of his injury.
“At this point in the year, everyone is banged up so I’m just trying to get ready for Sunday,” said Smith, who walked around the locker room gingerly Wednesday.
Smith suffered the injury on a fluky play. A forward pass slipped out of the hand of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and bounced twice toward Newman. A second later, he lunged for the ball in case it was a fumble and collided with the extended leg of Smith, who was casually reaching to pick up the ball.
“Stuff happens. It’s part of the game,” Smith said.
Smith wasn’t the only starter to sit out Wednesday’s practice. Defensive end Everson Griffen was sidelined by shoulder and hip injuries.
Safety Robert Blanton (ankle), defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (ankle) and left tackle Matt Kalil (toe) were limited.
In the past four weeks, Mike Wallace has just two catches for 26 yards. But in both a Week 8 win over the Chicago Bears and the loss to the Packers, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater overthrew the speedy wide receiver on a deep ball that likely would have resulted in a long touchdown reception.
Bridgewater said he thinks the two are “very close” to connecting.
“Each week in this offense, different guys are going to have an opportunity to make plays for us. When Mike’s opportunity comes, I will be one of the happiest guys for him,” Bridgewater said. “We know that we’ve just been missing. But those opportunities are there, so we just have to keep trying to capitalize.”
Seventh-round pick Austin Shepherd doesn’t have much in-game experience at left tackle, but he would likely be the next man up if an injury were to sideline Kalil. Shepherd was a two-year starter at right tackle at Alabama, playing only a little on the left side in Alabama’s win over Auburn last year.
“Our left tackle went down and they kind of just put me there,” he said.
After season-ending preseason injuries to Phil Loadholt and Carter Bykowski, Shepherd has been thrust into the backup swing tackle role. Of course, right tackle comes more naturally to him, but he is starting to feel comfortable on the left side in practice, too.
“It’s the same as right tackle,” he said. “I’ve grown accustomed to it but at first I was very uncomfortable. I wasn’t sure how to handle it. But I think I’ve grown to like it actually.”
Former Gophers standout defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman is settling in as a starter in his second season with the Falcons. Hageman has started three straight games for them and six of 10 games overall. He has recorded 15 tackles and a sack for a defense that ranks first in the NFL against the run.
Falcons coach Dan Quinn, who has been using Hageman in a couple of different roles on his defensive line, feels Hageman is off to a “really good start” under his new coaching staff.
“He’s been a real factor in our run game,” Quinn said. “We knew the challenge ahead of us in the run game facing Minnesota, and he’s right there in the middle of it as a factor for us.”
Linebacker Chad Greenway is the Vikings’ nominee for the Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award. Each team nominates a player who exemplifies outstanding sportsmanship on the field.
The 32 nominees will be pared to eight by a committee, then NFL players will vote for a winner when they fill out their Pro Bowl ballots Dec. 18.
Minneapolis native Larry Fitzgerald Jr., a wide receiver for Arizona, won the first award last year.