EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — Pride wasn’t the only thing smarting in Minnesota after the Vikings were beat down by the Chicago Bears last weekend.
Tight end Kyle Rudolph and safety Harrison Smith were knocked out of the game with concussions, and star receiver Percy Harvin missed his second straight game with a sprained left ankle that still made it difficult for him to walk. The injuries to key players cast a pall over a team that is facing a brutal stretch of games as it tries to chase down a playoff berth.
Just a few days later, things are starting to look a little better. Rudolph and Smith have passed concussion tests, clearing the way for them to be available for a pivotal game at Green Bay (7-4) on Sunday, and Harvin has returned to the practice field.
Harvin was still limping noticeably while running routes during the portion of practice that was open to the media on Wednesday, leaving his availability for the game in question. Rudolph watched practice nursing a shoulder injury, but it appears that he and Smith will be ready for the Packers.
“To know that Kyle and Harrison have been cleared, that’s a big deal,” coach Leslie Frazier said. “They are two keys to our football team. The fact that Percy’s going to attempt to do something today, that’s encouraging. It’s just a matter of how far he can go. That’s a big deal to have those guys out there practicing.”
The Vikings (6-5) sure needed some good news after getting thumped by the Bears. They play at Green Bay this weekend, then host the Bears and finish the season at St. Louis, at Houston and home against Green Bay. So if they’re going to make the postseason in what most expected to be a rebuilding year, they’re going to need all hands on deck to do it.
Rudolph said his shoulder shouldn’t keep him from playing this weekend, meaning up-and-down quarterback Christian Ponder should have one of his favorite targets on the field. It’s the second concussion of the year for Rudolph, who also suffered one in the preseason. He said the latest concussion wasn’t nearly as difficult to overcome.
“The other one was more of an equilibrium, balance type thing,” he said. “I didn’t have any of that during this one. Two completely different circumstances.”
Smith said he had a mild concussion in 2008 while playing at Notre Dame, but was able to play the next week. He’ll be needed on Sunday against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ pass-heavy offense.
“Once I got into the locker room I felt pretty normal,” Smith said. “Even the tests we did there, I passed. But they just didn’t want to run the risk of putting me back in the field.”
The biggest concern remains Harvin, who is the linchpin of the Vikings passing game. The Vikings have struggled mightily to form a consistent air game all season long, even when they have the versatile Harvin on the field. Without him, Frazier said the looks they got from opposing defenses were noticeably different.
“Percy, for coordinators, can be a nightmare,” Frazier said. “Yes they do approach us differently. They don’t have to double our slot receiver like they do when he’s out there. You don’t approach our kickoff return team like you do when he’s out there. It definitely makes a difference.”
The rest of the receivers have been had a very difficult time making big plays in his absence. To make matters worse, the receiver corps had a rash of drops on Sunday in Chicago, including three by Jerome Simpson. Both Ponder and receivers coach George Stewart had conversations with Simpson to try and bolster his shaken confidence this week.
“I’m obviously down because I’m used to making those plays, but you’ve just got to be resilient in this game,” Simpson said. “You’ve just got to be able to bounce back and refocus.”
Simpson said he needs to do a better job of getting his hands out in front to bring the ball in.
“I let the ball get too close to my body,” he said. “It bounced off my pads, and I’m not used to just catching it. I’ve just got to trust in myself.”
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