Mike Zimmer has a plan if COVID-19 removes every Vikings quarterback from his roster, like it did for the Broncos on Sunday.
Denver had to start practice squad receiver Kendall Hinton at quarterback in a 31-3 loss to the Saints after a positive case for one quarterback led to the other three being quarantined.
But Zimmer said the Vikings won’t be isolating a quarterback to ensure they have one for the final five regular-season games. The Vikings have put six players on its COVID list since Oct. 28 because of positive cases or contact tracing; at least three players tested positive.
“We talked about it earlier in the year,” Zimmer said. “Honestly, if a guy isn’t practicing, he’s probably not going to play very good, anyway. We’ll just keep being really careful with our protocols and being smart with the masks and all of that.”
Receiver Adam Thielen, who watched Sunday’s game from home because of a positive test last week, would have been the emergency quarterback if Kirk Cousins, Sean Mannion, Jake Browning and Nate Stanley were all ineligible to play.
“Well, it would have been Thielen, but he wasn’t there [Sunday],” Zimmer said. “So, it would have been [tight end Kyle] Rudolph. Hopefully, we don’t lose four quarterbacks.”
Coaches install worst-case scenario adjustments— such as linebacker Eric Kendricks stepping in at long snapper — during the summer and refresh those plans before kickoff every week.
“We take a day in training camp and kind of work on what we would do if a certain situation arose, if the third quarterback [was out],” Zimmer said. “Then we repeat it, typically on Saturdays.”
All eyes on Jefferson
Wide receiver Justin Jefferson was covered by two Panthers defenders more than a few times without Thielen in the offense Sunday, leading Cousins to direct big plays in the final two-minute drill toward Rudolph and receiver Chad Beebe.
Jefferson still finished with seven catches for 70 yards and two touchdowns in the 28-27 victory despite varied Carolina tactics including double coverage by two corners.
“Especially toward the end of the game,” Jefferson said. “I haven’t seen that since high school. It was a little weird to see. But yeah, that’s when I really, really saw it.”
At his rate of 83.5 yards per game with five to go, Jefferson would surpass Randy Moss for the third-most receiving yards by an NFL rookie in league history. His 918 yards ranks seventh among all NFL receivers this season.
“That’s definitely what I expected for me to do,” Jefferson said. “Been confident in my game and have been working on my game tremendously. All of my hard work that I’ve been putting in over the offseason and through college is definitely paying off.”
Cook ‘feels good’
Running back Dalvin Cook told the Vikings medical staff that he “feels good” after suffering an ankle injury Sunday. But coaches won’t be seeing Cook at the TCO Performance Center in Eagan until Wednesday because the NFL closed all team facilities Monday and Tuesday amid rising coronavirus cases across the country and Thanksgiving gatherings that risked transmission.
“I got a report [Monday] morning,” Zimmer said. “[Cook] said he feels good, so we’ll just see where he’s at. I’m sitting in Inver Grove Heights, so it’s a little hard for me to tell on some of these things.”
The Vikings won Sunday despite fumbling away three possessions and losing the turnover battle 3-1. Only three NFL teams have a worse turnover differential than the Vikings (minus-6) through 11 games, which would be the biggest imbalance of Zimmer’s tenure. But safety Harrison Smith said the defense has made its takeaways count.
“More forced fumbles — I don’t think we’ve done enough of that, getting fumble recoveries and things of that nature,” Smith said. “But what we have done is we’ve had really timely turnovers: red-zone interceptions, blocked field goals — that’s not a turnover, but it essentially acts as a turnover.”