Jarius Wright is the Vikings’ most experienced receiver in just about every category.
Yet after this preseason, questions remain about his role in Minnesota.
Besides a leg injury that held back Wright during training camp and two preseason games, he was usurped in the starting lineup whenever he was able to practice by Adam Thielen. That carried over into exhibitions as Thielen, a fourth-year receiver, entered as the Vikings’ third receiver in passing formations, the role held by Wright for the past three years.
“I just play football, regardless of where I’m at,” Wright said.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer initially told reporters not to read much into Thielen’s run with the starters, which appeared to continue into the regular season as he lined up opposite Stefon Diggs at the start of group drills Monday. Charles Johnson was held out because of an undisclosed injury.
Curiosity peaked when Wright, who had returned to practice more than a week before the Vikings’ third preseason game, didn’t play until the second half against San Diego. Vikings starters lined up with three receivers on 13 plays. On all 13 snaps, Teddy Bridgewater’s third receiver was Thielen accompanied by Diggs, at either slot or flanker, and either Johnson or rookie Laquon Treadwell at split end.
Wright suited up but watched from the sideline until after halftime. After the preseason finale, in which starters sat and Wright played, reports circulated about Wright being on the trading block. As final cuts approached Saturday, two sources said he was not being shopped.
“I never had any doubt I would be here,” said Wright, who signed a four-year extension before last season. “I know my talents and I know what I can do. Regardless, I know I can be in this league.”
Six receivers made the Vikings’ initial 53-man roster, though what shape they will take Sundays has yet to be pinned down.
Typically, the team has only activated five receivers on game days. Thielen, a special teams ace, has taken full advantage of his snaps in the offense and could play the key role. Cordarrelle Patterson remains one of the league’s best kick returners, while Johnson, Diggs and Treadwell are expected to contribute on offense.
Then there’s Wright, the Vikings’ highest-paid receiver and most proven across the board, whether you want to compare by career games played, receptions or yards. While uncertainty remains about who will start under center between Sam Bradford and Shaun Hill, the same can be asked about the team’s third receiver. Wright snagged three passes for 35 yards in the preseason finale last week.
“Kind of does what Jarius always does when he gets in there — he goes and makes plays,” Zimmer said after the preseason finale. “It’s good to see him get out there. We’re going to need him.”
Coach’s new task
The conversation has stayed upbeat surrounding Bridgewater following his knee dislocation, torn anterior cruciate ligament and other damage last week.
Bridgewater was at the Winter Park training facilities on Monday, when his head coach helped him undo a teammate’s prank.
“Xavier Rhodes always come in and unties his shoe,” Zimmer said. “You know, he’s sitting and, you know, he can’t reach his shoe. … I’m the shoe-tier now.”
Left tackle Matt Kalil (leg), cornerback Xavier Rhodes (hamstring) and running back Jerick McKinnon (undisclosed) returned to practice Monday. Their early participation is a good sign for the trio’s chances of playing Sunday during the regular-season opener in Tennessee.
Held out of practice were tight end MyCole Pruitt (knee), receiver Charles Johnson (undisclosed) and offensive linemen Jeremiah Sirles and Nick Easton.