EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Monday’s news about the Minnesota Vikings losing Pro Bowl fullback Jerome Felton and the possibility five-time All-Pro defensive tackle Kevin Williams might not be ready for the start of the season turned into Tuesday and preparing for time without two vital pieces.
Dating back to a DWI arrest in June 2012, Felton was suspended for the first three games of the season on Monday after his appeal was turned down. Williams suffered a bruised right knee and a posterior capsular strain that leaves his status for the start of the season in doubt.
Minnesota’s expected depth at defensive tackle has taken a sudden hit with rookie Sharrif Floyd still recovering from knee surgery last week and Christian Ballard away from the team for personal reasons.
“Well, when you have a question mark regarding a potential Hall of Famer like Kevin Williams, that creates some concern,” Frazier said Tuesday. “He’s one of the best to ever play the game at his position. We’re all hoping he’ll be ready to go, but it definitely creates some concern from a depth standpoint.
“With Sharrif coming off an injury, with Kevin a little bit banged up, now you’re into your depth quite a bit. Christian’s situation is nothing that changes, so we have some other guys on our roster that we’ll try to give an opportunity and see how they progress. But we’re all hoping that Sharrif will play well and continue to improve and that we’ll get Kevin on opening day.”
Minnesota didn’t release any defensive tackles in its first round of cuts on Monday and currently have Fred Evans, Letroy Guion, Chase Baker, Everett Dawkins, Anthony McCloud and Spencer Nealy healthy on the inside of the defensive line. The Vikings would likely go with Evans and Guion starting in the first regular-season game on Sept. 8 if Williams isn’t ready to return.
Floyd didn’t practice Tuesday, but Frazier said he’s closer to returning after he had surgery last week to ease some pain in the front of his knee. Floyd won’t play in Thursday’s preseason finale with Williams’
injury giving the team pause.
“In light of what’s going on with Kevin it probably wouldn’t be wise to get (Floyd) out there,” Frazier said. “He’s close enough where he probably could get a few snaps, but just probably wouldn’t be the smart thing to do.”
With Williams’s return unknown, more could be expected from Floyd, who was drafted with the No. 23 overall pick in April’s draft. Floyd started training camp on the third-team behind Williams and Ballard and has missed a lot of time since first injuring his knee in the first preseason game.
“The fact that he’s missed some time, it’s going to be a challenge for sure,” Frazier said of Floyd being ready to play a big role in the season-opener. “We’ll talk to him about it, some of the veterans will and some of the coaches will, about what’s going to occur and the speed of the game, how different things will be on opening day. But there’s nothing like experiencing it. He’ll have to go through that process and learn from it and grow over that time. But the time he’s missed will definitely affect some of the things he’ll have to get done on that day.”
Frazier said the team knew a suspension was possible for Felton before the team re-signed him to a three-year, $7.5 million contract in the offseason.
“You always knew that there was potential,” Frazier said. “You didn’t know if it would happen. His incident, as referenced earlier, was some time ago. But it was always looming that this could possibly happen.”
Frazier said its likely Rhett Ellison, a second-year tight end, would fill much of Felton’s role during the suspension. The team also has undrafted rookie Zach Line on the roster and has used backup tight end John Carlson in the backfield on limited occasions.
“He’s always prepared, always understands what his role is, what the situations are,” Frazier said of Ellison. “I don’t think we can overwork him. He’s going to be prepared to work. He’ll be ready when we line up against Detroit. But yes, we could add more to his plate and we probably will have to now.”
Bishop still auditioning: Linebacker Desmond Bishop received extended playing time in Sunday’s third preseason game and led the team with nine tackles. Bishop had his first chance to play with the first-team offense in a game and felt it was a necessary step to proving he can start at weakside linebacker.
“Every time you have an opportunity to get on the field, especially in the games but in practice as well, it’s an audition,” Bishop said. “I definitely was auditioning.”
The coaches wanted to see how Bishop reacted playing against a first-team offense as they evaluate which linebackers will make the final roster and who might start on the weakside between Marvin Mitchell and Bishop.
“He was much better in this ballgame than he was the previous week against Buffalo, which you would expect him to be a little bit better,” Frazier said. “We’re going to play him on Thursday night and you’d hope he’d get better again, just continue to improve. He showed some things. We’ve just got to be able to put him out there and put him in situations and see how he does, but I was impressed with some of the things he did in that ballgame.”
Bishop said he feels comfortable in his first year in Minnesota and he “definitely can handle it” if he was asked to be the starter.
“At the end of the day it’s football,” Bishop said. “I feel like I’ve got a good comfort with the calls, good comfort feel with the calls. After that, just preparation and I think I’m there.”
A few injuries: Besides Williams and Floyd, Minnesota is dealing with a few other injured players with the regular season closing in.
Cornerback Chris Cook suffered a groin injury in Sunday’s game, but Frazier said he “should be better in no time.” Cook wasn’t a full participant in practice on Tuesday. Erin Henderson didn’t practice Tuesday and is still dealing with a heel injury from practice last week.
Safety Mistral Raymond has an AC sprain of his shoulder and is likely to miss Thursday’s game.
“We’ll have to tend to that,” Frazier said. “He probably won’t play Thursday night, it’s such a short week.”
Minnesota kept seven safeties on the roster following the first cuts this week.
Frazier also said receiver Cordarrelle Patterson dealing with some soreness with an undisclosed injury.