Ahead of his third return to Detroit, Vikings left tackle Riley Reiff is expected to play after returning to practice Thursday, according to coach Mike Zimmer.
Reiff, the former Lions tackle drafted in 2012’s first round, was sidelined Wednesday because of an ankle injury suffered against the Eagles. Reiff will make his 15th consecutive start for the Vikings. He was officially listed as limited after taking his place next to left guard Pat Elflein at the start of Thursday’s practice.
With guard Josh Kline (foot) practicing for a second consecutive day, the Vikings offensive line should be intact Sunday for the fourth game. Reserve guard Dakota Dozier and tackle Rashod Hill have played significant roles for an inconsistent offense averaging 32 points in four victories and 11 points in two losses.
“Credit to those guys for communicating well,” offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski said. “The nature of the NFL, sometimes it’s going to be one in, one out, and there can’t be a drop-off.”
Linebacker Ben Gedeon remains sidelined in the concussion protocol two weeks after suffering the injury in Week 5 against the Giants. Eric Wilson, whose hometown Redford, Mich. is a Detroit suburb, would make his third start of the season if Gedeon were inactive against the Lions.
Rookie receiver Davion Davis, who signed out of Sam Houston State this spring, says he’ll do anything, including “deliver water to the best of my ability” during practices to make an impression. Now back on the practice squad after a short stint on the 53-man roster, Davis has also taken a couple reps as a scout team quarterback when the Vikings defense prepares for a mobile threat.
Davis touts his arm, despite lacking the chances to show it off outside of trick plays in training camp.
“That’s what a lot of people don’t know,” Davis said. “I got a pretty good arm on me. Haven’t got to throw it yet [in regular-season practices] but looking forward to it.”
‘A lot different’
An evolved challenge is waiting in Detroit as the Lions offense looks “a lot different” from last season, according to defensive coordinator George Edwards. Under first-year coordinator Darrell Bevell (and Vikings OC from 2006-10), the Lions offense ranks in the top 10 in rushing attempts per game. An altered approach shifts some attention away from quarterback Matthew Stafford, who for years carried a lopsided offense in Detroit.
“They’ve had a lot of success because it’s balanced,” Edwards said. “They’ve been able to run the ball now and the play-action [passes] off of it, I think that’s been a big plus for them.”
In the age of the declining kickoff return, Lions specialist Jamal Agnew is only one of two NFL returners with a kickoff return for a touchdown this season. He housed a 100-yard return in the Lions’ 27-24 victory against the Eagles last month. The Vikings allowed a 52-yard kickoff return two weeks ago against the Giants.
“I don’t think it matters where you kick it unless it goes through the back of the end zone,” special teams coordinator Marwan Maalouf said. “He’s going to take it out. That’s how we prepare with every kick returner, not just him. But Agnew is an exceptional talent. The last thing you want to do is let him get the ball.”
While some defenses such as the Lions take pride in deploying a variation of fronts, the Vikings’ 4-3 defense doesn’t change often. But Zimmer has installed a new evolution, the “diamond” front, which spreads the front five wide with Anthony Barr and Danielle Hunter standing at the edges like 3-4 outside linebackers; defensive end Everson Griffen typically moves inside.
“We’ve been basically lining up the same way for six years,” Zimmer said, “and these teams knew exactly where we were going to be all the time. We have smart guys, so I felt being able to move guys here or there could helps us.”