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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