Injuries beginning to mount in Vikings’ secondary

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings were packing up for their evening trip to London on Monday but had a few last minute medical tests to get out of the way.

Cornerbacks Chris Cook and A.J. Jefferson and starting safety Jamarca Sanford were all scheduled to have magnetic resonance imaging tests Monday after being hurt and unable to finish in Sunday’s loss to the Cleveland Browns.

Coach Leslie Frazier wasn’t sure the status of the players heading into this week’s game in London against the Pittsburgh Steelers and was waiting to hear the results of the MRIs. The injuries add concern to the depth in the secondary for Minnesota.

“It depends on what happens with Chris, how severe is AJ’s ankle, that affects your depth if those guys can’t go for some reason,” Frazier said. “We’ll have to see what happens with the both of them.”

Cook suffered a groin injury Sunday and was only on the field for three plays. Cook entered the season as the Vikings’ most experienced cornerback, but has had trouble staying on the field in his career. He missed 10 games in his rookie season with knee injuries. An off-the-field situation caused him to miss 10 games in his second season. Last year, a broken arm limited him to 10 games, but he did return at the end of the season.

Cook suffered a groin injury in the preseason too, but had played every defensive snap the first two games.

“He’s a guy we need on the field,” Frazier said. “He knows it. But if you’re injured, you’re injured. We’ll just get someone else ready to go.”

Jefferson replaced Cook in the base defense, but was beat for a 47-yard touchdown by receiver Josh Gordon and left because of an ankle injury. Marcus Sherels played the right cornerback spot in the base defense after Jefferson’s injury and the Vikings kept first-round rookie Xavier Rhodes as the nickel cornerback, moving Josh Robinson inside in nickel situations.

“I wanted to leave Xavier where he was at this point,” Frazier said. “He’s doing some good things out at the left corner spot. He’s playing a lot. We’re in the nickel defense so much, wanted to leave him where he is and keep our nickel package intact, and that was the thing.”

Sherels played well in his surprise appearance, grading out as Minnesota’s best defender in Sunday’s game, according to Pro Football Focus.

Rhodes has mostly practiced on the left side in his time with the Vikings, but said he does have experience playing both sides in his time at Florida State.

“I moved all over the field,” Rhodes said. “So I played both sides.”

Frazier said Rhodes would need more work on the right side before feeling comfortable with him there in a game.

“He’s worked exclusively on the left side,” Frazier said. “We have to be careful about that with a young guy, not that we couldn’t do that, not that we may not do that. We’ll explore all avenues depending on what happens with Chris from a health standpoint. But we’ll re-evaluate it after, at some point during the day.”

Line placed on injured reserve: The Vikings did make one move with an injured player on Monday, putting rookie fullback Zach Line on injured reserve with an unknown injury. The move makes room for Pro Bowl fullback Jerome Felton to return to the active roster after serving his three-game suspension.

Felton will be able to play Sunday in London.

Line, who had been mostly a runner in his college career, made the team as an undrafted rookie out of Southern Methodist. He was making the transition to fullback and was the lead blocker for MVP running back Adrian Peterson. Line didn’t have a carry and had one catch for eight yards.

Offensive line play is a surprise: Minnesota returned all five starters from last season on the offensive line and the group has played 20 games in a row together, including last year’s playoff game. The Vikings felt comfortable entering the season with left tackle Matt Kalil, left guard Charlie Johnson, center John Sullivan, right guard Brandon Fusco and right tackle Phil Loadholt.

But the offensive line has struggled and perhaps been the biggest disappointment this season, and has led to the offensive inconsistency.

“We need to play better up front,” Frazier said. “It’s hard for our team to be successful if our offensive line and our defensive line are not playing at a high level. Our guys know that, our team knows that and we’ve got to help them to get to that point.”

Frazier said the issues come down to execution.

“We’re not, obviously, executing as well as we need to, to be successful down-in and down-out,” Frazier said. “We’ve got two guys that are good at this point and two other guys that aren’t doing it the right way on the same play. We’ve got to find a way to get five guys executing correctly on each and every play. You’re going to have some moments where someone may miss a block or miss an assignment. We’ve got to get a little more consistent play. There’s some things we’ve got to look at in what we’re doing and figure out how to help our players be more consistent in what they’re doing.”

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