Vikings Injuries Impacting Status + Observations from MIN-TEN

Tennessee Titans quarterback Malik Willis (7) chats with Minnesota Vikings quarterback Nick Mullens (12) after the Titans 24-16 victory at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn., Saturday, Aug. 19, 2023. © Andrew Nelles / The Tennessean / USA TODAY NETWORK.

Vikings Hall of Fame Coach Bud Grant once said of injuries, “A player can’t achieve greatness without durability.” 

Vikings Injuries Impacting Status + Observations from MIN-TEN

Some players have a knack for staying healthy enough to answer the bell each week — such as Kirk Cousins today and Jim Marshall in the days of the Purple People Eaters. And some players — due to bad luck, bad body construction, or less effective training methods — always seem to battle injuries that knock them out of a few or many games each season. Then there are a few players — such as our great running back Robert Smith in the 1990s — who overcome the injury bug from early in their career and become more durable players.

The Vikings have three players who were counted on for key roles this season but may be passed by, at least early on, due to their extended absences during training camp and having missed joint practice sessions with the Titans last week, along with the first two preseason games. They are: 

Brian Asamoah: When the Vikings released Eric Kendricks in March, Asamoah was projected to replace him as a starting inside linebacker alongside Jordan Hicks. Asamoah, a third-round pick in 2022, was impressive with his speed and playmaking ability in his limited playing time last season, but he missed a lot of recent practice with an undisclosed injury. He did participate in Monday’s walk-through but not the full practice. Fourth-year man Troy Dye and undrafted rookie Ivan Pace have gotten a lot of playtime in Asamoah’s absence, and he needs to get back to fully practicing soon if he’s going to start against the Bucs on opening day.

Impacting Status
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Kene Nwangwu: The third-year running back and second-team All-Pro kickoff returner from last season had the first crack at backing up Alexander Mattison after Dalvin Cook was released. But Nwangwu’s undisclosed injury has allowed Ty Chandler to move into the No. 2 spot. With his quickness and ability to make defenders miss, Chandler will be difficult for Nwangwu to overtake, even if he can get back on the field soon. He remained out of practice on Monday. 

Jalen Nailor: The 2022 sixth-round pick performed well in OTAs and minicamp, positioning himself as the fourth receiver on the depth chart (behind Justin Jefferson, K.J. Osborn, and Jordan Addison) before getting hurt in camp going up to make a catch. That opened the door for Jalen Reagor, Brandon Powell, Trishton Jackson, and N’Keal Harry to get more second-team reps in practices and preseason games. Nailor returned to full practice on Monday and needs to reassert himself this week in joint practices and Saturday’s preseason finale with the Cardinals to solidify his role as the fourth receiver and a possible return man. 

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The good news for the Vikings is Addison was back at practice, although not allowed to be hit after being in concussion protocol last week. Starting corner Akayleb Evans was back after recovering from a collision with Josh Metellus last week that fortunately did not turn out to be another concussion for Evans after his issues last season. Fifth-round defensive tackle Jaquelin Roy played well early in camp and has been sidelined recently but says he will be back at practice this week, which is important for him to get needed reps to claim a roster spot.

Corner Andrew Booth, last year’s second-round pick who played in only six games due to knee issues and has missed practice time this camp, did participate in the Titans joint practices and made an end zone interception and played in the two preseason games with mixed results. He is competing with third-round pick Mekhi Blackmon and vet Joejuan Williams for playing time as a third corner, with Byron Murphy and Evans the likely starting outside corners and Murphy moving to the slot in passing situations.

Pro Bowl tight end T.J. Hockenson is gradually returning from an ear infection and says his contract negotiations for an extension are not creating a “hold-in.” Hockenson says he’ll definitely be ready for opening day. That’s critical for the Vikings offense as he was Kirk Cousins’ No. 2 target last season behind Jefferson.

Observations from the Vikings-Titans game: 

Last year’s top pick safety Lewis Cine had an up-and-down game. It was encouraging to see him get a sack and make seven tackles, but he had a missed tackle on a long TD run. Dye had an interception as he fights for a bigger role on D. Rookie quarterback Jaren Hall led a nice late TD drive. 

The run defense by the backups will be an emphasis this week and needs to improve in this week’s joint practices and preseason game after allowing the Titans to rush for 281 yards, including 91 yards on the ground for QB Malik Willis. The Titans did play their starting offensive line in the first three series against the Vikings No. 2 defense, so it was a bit of a mismatch early on. 

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The Vikings’ tight end depth looks to be a team strength. Along with a star in Hockenson, free agent signee Josh Oliver will have a significant role as a blocker and receiver. Coach Kevin O’Connell has praised Oliver and Johnny Mundt, who O’Connell says is the best third tight end in the league.

Second-year man Nick Muse has six catches in the two preseason games, and vet Colin Thompson and rookie Ben Sims also have looked good and had two catches each against the Titans. A couple of these backup tight ends will likely wind up on the practice squad.

Cut day is next Tuesday, so this is a big week for the bubble players at all positions.  

Around the NFL Observations:

1. It’s interesting and a mild surprise to see that Aaron Rodgers will start the Jets’ final preseason game on Saturday against the Giants. Jets Coach Robert Saleh obviously wants to see Rodgers’ in-game action with his offensive line that Saleh has criticized during training camp. It will be the first preseason game for Rodgers since 2018, and it’s apparent that Saleh and Rodgers want to get this dress rehearsal in advance of the team’s high-profile opener coming up on Monday night, September 11, at home against Buffalo. 

Perhaps Dalvin Cook will get a few snaps in this game for his new team, but he hadn’t yet practiced with the Jets offense going into this week as he completes his recovery from offseason shoulder surgery. 

Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports.

2. Brock Purdy started and had a good outing (completing 4 of 5 passes for 65 yards and had an 8-yard run) in leading a drive that ended in a field goal in the 49ers preseason win over the Broncos last Saturday. That sets up Purdy to start the opener in Pittsburgh on September 10. 

The battle continues for the backup role between two former No. 3 overall picks—Sam Darnold (by the Jets in 2018) and Trey Lance (by the 49ers in 2021). Darnold came in before Lance against Denver, both players threw one TD pass and one interception, and Lance led the final two drives for a TD and field goal in the comeback win. Whoever loses the backup QB competition could be traded next week.  

3. Baker Mayfield will start against the Vikings in Week 1 at U.S. Bank Stadium. The other two teams with preseason QB competitions — Washington and Indianapolis — announced Sam Howell as Commanders starter and rookie Anthony Richardson as Colts starter. 

4. It was an admirable decision by Patriots Coach Bill Belichick and Packers Coach Matt LaFleur to push for the preseason game with the Packers to be ended with 10 minutes left after Pats rookie cornerback Isaiah Bolden was carted off with a head injury after a collision with a teammate. It’s good news to hear Bolden has been released from the hospital and returned to New England with the team.

It also proves once again how meaningless wins and losses are in the preseason since both teams did not want to finish the game which was the right call by the coaches and the NFL. 

Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings GM, former Tennessee Titans President and was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. He now works for the NFL agent group IFA based in Minneapolis and does other sports consulting and media work along with college/corporate speaking. Follow him and direct message him on Twitter– @jeffdiamondnfl