Vikings safety Harrison Smith nearing a return to practice

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Harrison Smith’s decision to forgo
surgery on his injured toe could pay off next week.

Smith, the Minnesota Vikings’ playmaking safety, has been
out since the second half of Week 5 when he injured his toe. Originally
described as turf toe, Smith said there was a little more to the injury than
turf toe. Doctors told Smith he might have to have surgery, but rest and
rehabilitation of the toe might get him back on the field this season.

Surgery hasn’t been completely ruled out yet, but Smith said
he’s feeling better and expects to return to practice when he’s first eligible
next week.

“I mean, everything’s looking up,” Smith said Thursday. “I
get a (magnetic resonance imaging test) sometime soon, so that will kind of
like confirmation. But from a feeling standpoint it feels pretty good.”

The MRI will tell doctors whether Smith will be able to
return and if his toe is healing properly or whether surgery might end up being
needed after all. Smith is on the injured reserve list and was given
Minnesota’s one-use designation to return. Smith can practice next week and has
two weeks before he’s eligible to return with three weeks left in the season
for the Vikings on Dec. 15.

“Yeah, from everything (head athletic trainer) Eric Sugarman
and his staff tell us, we should have him back next week,” coach Leslie Frazier
said. “He hasn’t had any setbacks so far so I’m anxious to see if he can get
out there and perform.”

Smith still is tied for the team lead with two interceptions
this season and is sixth with 41 tackles. He said he’s shooting to practice and
play as soon as he can.

Despite Minnesota’s 2-8 record, Smith said he never gave
thought to not returning this season. He said he’d return no matter what the
team’s record was as long as his toe allowed him to play, and he knows the
timeframe well, even reciting the Vikings’ opponents in the final three games.

“Two weeks and then we play Philly, Bengals, Lions,” Smith
said about getting back to practice next week.

Smith said he’s started running, but his toe gets fatigued
quickly. He’s trying to build up his cardiovascular endurance as quick as he
can.

“Yeah, it’s amazing how out of shape you can get in a few weeks,”
Smith said. “So I’m just getting my cardio back up and making sure that I can
make all the movements I need.’’

Erin Henderson could miss Sunday’s game: Frazier said middle
linebacker Erin Henderson has been out of practice the past two days because of
a personal matter and Frazier wasn’t sure if Henderson would be back in time
for Sunday’s game at Green Bay.

Frazier said Audie Cole would start if Henderson didn’t
return in time and likely take Henderson’s spot in the nickel defense.

Frazier said rookie Michael Mauti might have been in line to
start, but Mauti is dealing with knee soreness after a scare in Sunday’s game
at Seattle.

“Probably, yeah, but knowing what happened in Seattle and
how we’ve had to limit him this week, it would be hard to say he would be ready
on Sunday,” Frazier said of Mauti.

Frazier added: “He’s coming along pretty good. He was a
little sore after the Seattle game. He had to come out of that game because of
his knee, but he’s been coming along. He’s been improving. He got some reps in
that ballgame as well towards the end of the game. But his time will come.”

Frazier said the soreness is on the knee in which Mauti last
had surgery on at Penn State. Mauti has been listed as limited in practice the
past two days.

“That’s where it came from, yeah,” Frazier said of being the
knee he had rehabilitated this summer. “He jarred his knee on the turf at
Seattle and it scared him a little bit. It was knee that he had the ACL surgery
on.”

Frazier credited Mauti’s work on special teams this season
and said he’s been working more in practice in the team’s defense.

“We got him some practice time a week ago at the ‘Mike’
position, more than we had in the past,” Frazier said. “He did a good job with
some of the things we put on his shoulder, so you can see he’s going to have a
chance when his time comes. He’s got to get a little stronger and get more
confidence in that knee. But what you see on special teams you think you can
translate to playing linebacker. He’s done a good job of going down and coming
up with some big hits.”

Robison leaves practice, Sullivan not ready: Frazier said
defensive end Brian Robison left practice early on Thursday. Robison was listed
as limited with a neck injury.

Center John Sullivan still hasn’t passed concussion testing
and Frazier said Sullivan would have to clear the testing and practice on
Friday to be ready to play on Sunday.

“Well, if he doesn’t get cleared tomorrow, we probably
wouldn’t be able to play him because he has to be able to go through something
with our team after coming off a concussion,” Frazier said. “So, hopefully
he’ll get cleared to get out there.”

Joe Berger would start if Sullivan isn’t cleared in time.

Receiver Greg Childs was held out of practice on Thursday
after returning to practice for the first time since bilateral patellar tendon
tears on Aug. 4, 2012.

“He was a little sore from yesterday’s work, so we held him
back today,” Frazier said. “So it will probably be like that as we’re bringing
him back, just some days it will be better than others. But it was good to see
him out here yesterday. The guys were pretty pumped up to see him participate.
It was good.”

Greg Jennings (Achilles), Rhett Ellison (ankle), Fred Evans
(knee/shoulder), Letroy Guion (chest) and Jared Allen (back) were also limited
on Thursday. Allen was added to the injury report for the first time this week.

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