EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — While one potential starter in the secondary for the Minnesota Vikings made a return to practice from a hamstring injury, another’s absence seems to be wearing on coach Mike Zimmer.
Safety Robert Blanton returned to practice for Minnesota on Monday as the team returned to its facilities in Eden Prairie after a nearly three-week stay at Minnesota State University. Cornerback Josh Robinson, who was competing for a starting job at outside cornerback, was still held out of practice with his own hamstring injury.
"Blanton I think’s going to go today," Zimmer said after the morning walk-through and before the Vikings’ afternoon practice. "And the other guy. Who knows?"
Blanton has been out since July 28 with a hamstring injury. He was working as the first-team safety alongside Harrison Smith when he was injured. Blanton has still been listed as a first-team safety on the team’s unofficial depth chart even during the injury as Zimmer tries to find a complement to Smith.
"Amazing, the promised land," Blanton said of how it felt to return to practice.
Blanton said he’s feeling better and said he hopes to play in the team’s third preseason game on Saturday at Kansas City. He said he doesn’t feel behind after missing time.
"I’ve been out at every practice and every meeting," Blanton said. "So I got the defense as you go along, make sure I stayed on the mental aspect of the game."
With Blanton out for last week’s game, Zimmer said he wanted to get a look at four safeties: Chris Crocker — who started — Jamarca Sanford, Andrew Sendejo and Kurt Coleman.
Zimmer said the game situations didn’t allow for a good evaluation.
"We need to keep evaluating them," Zimmer said. "Some of them there wasn’t a lot of action and some of the plays for them. And that’s the one problem with safeties, sometimes you don’t get a lot of action, so we’ve got to continue to evaluate them again this week and probably the fourth preseason game, too. We’re going to keep dividing the reps, trying to rotate guys in there and figure out what’s the best way to go."
Robinson is listed as a co-starter on the depth chart with Captain Munnerlyn, with Xavier Rhodes listed as the starter on the other side. But Robinson’s hamstring injury could be hurting his chances.
Asked if Munnerlyn looks to be the starter, Zimmer said: "Looks like it."
Robinson had returned to practice only to be knocked out again with the same hamstring trouble. He worked with an athletic trainer on the side during Monday’s practice, doing agility drills.
Last week, Zimmer said, "It’s hard to make the club in the tub" when talking about Robinson.
A third-round draft pick in 2012, Robinson played 10 games last year while dealing with an injury and also struggled to adapt to his first starting job and a role as the inside cornerback in the nickel defense.
Simpson out: Receiver Jerome Simpson was not at Monday’s practice. The Pioneer Press reported Simpson was in New York to meet with league officials. Simpson is facing a possible suspension after being arrested last season for suspicion of DWI.
Simpson pleaded guilty in January to careless driving and a third-degree DWI for refusal to submit to a DWI test.
Simpson was suspended the first three games of the 2012 season for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy for a drug conviction after a marijuana shipment was tracked to his home.
A new linebacker: Minnesota waived injured linebacker Dom DeCicco, who had hip surgery last week. The Vikings claimed linebacker Justin Jackson off waivers from the Detroit Lions.
Jackson was an undrafted rookie free agent who signed with Detroit. Jackson played at Wake Forest, where he had 193 tackles, seven sacks, three forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries in 36 games.
Cassel to start: Zimmer said Matt Cassel will start at quarterback in Saturday’s third preseason game. Zimmer still wouldn’t say if Cassel is set to start the first regular-season game.
Zimmer said Teddy Bridgewater, competing with Cassel for a starting job, could see some time this week with the first-team offense.
"That’s a possibility," Zimmer said.
Bridgewater led a late comeback in Minnesota’s 30-28 win last week and finished the game 16 of 20 for 177 yards and two touchdowns, the final one going to receiver Rodney Smith with 18 seconds left.
"He was calm, poised," Zimmer said. "You could tell he was kind of feeling it the whole way. He was getting the ball out in the right places and getting the protections down. I think he’s feeling more comfortable. Like he’s told you, it’s better when he doesn’t overthink things and let the game go."
No clarity in the middle: Zimmer said he hasn’t made any decisions about the middle linebacker position either, where Jasper Brinkley and Audie Cole split time with the first-team defense in last week’s game.
"Honestly, it’s close," Zimmer said. "I think they both do some good things, and the problem with that the other night was I think Jasper played eight plays or something like that because of what they were doing offensively. So we’re going to get him in some of the substitution groups and get a better, longer evaluation of him."
More injuries: Shaun Prater and Jabari Price were held out of Monday’s practice. Prater, dealing with a concussion, worked out alongside a trainer on Monday and could be close to returning.
Zimmer said Prater could return on Tuesday if he’s cleared by doctors. Zimmer wouldn’t disclose Price’s injury but said he "probably" won’t play this week. Price told reporters after Saturday’s game his arm was "tingling" initially but he felt fine. He later left the locker room with his right arm in a sling.
Zimmer added that linebacker Gerald Hodges likely won’t play this week. Hodges was seen with ice on his left ankle after the game. Hodges missed practice on Monday, as did linebacker Brandon Watts.
Zimmer said nose tackle Linval Joseph has started rehab after being shot in the leg by a stray bullet as a bystander in a nightclub shooting following the first preseason game.