Carlson returns, but injuries are many for Vikes

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings finally have tight end John Carlson back on the field.

Carlson, signed to a five-year, $25 million contract as a free agent from the Seattle Seahawks during the offseason, had missed three weeks of practice with his new team while dealing with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his knee. The lost time was making the Vikings eager to see Carlson on the field and he returned for Sunday’s practice for the first time since July 31.

Carlson won’t play in Thursday’s preseason finale when Minnesota travels to Houston, but coach Leslie Frazier was hopeful he’d be ready for the season opener on Sept. 9 at home against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

“He moved around pretty good,” Frazier said Sunday. “It’s good to see him back out with his teammates and encouraged by the fact that he was out there. If he can just keep making progress this week, he should be fine when we get ready for game week. It was good to have him out there. He moved around pretty good.”

Carlson was signed in the offseason expected to provide another good receiving option for Minnesota’s two tight end offensive sets. Carlson, who missed all of last season because of shoulder surgery, hasn’t played in a game since the first week of the preseason last year and has missed significant development time with his new offense.

“I know he was excited to get out and practice today again finally,” quarterback Christian Ponder said. “He’s a guy we could use and we’re happy to have him back.”

Defensive starters back to practice too: Two expected starters on the defense were back at practice again Sunday as well, with Chris Cook returning for the first time in over a week because of a concussion. Defensive tackle Letroy Guion also made it back to practice in his continued attempt at a return from a sprained posterior cruciate ligament in his knee.

Guion had missed a week after suffering the injury in the first preseason game. He returned last week, but aggravated the injury and was held out of practices at the end of the week.

Neither Guion or Cook will play in Thursday’s game. Frazier wants to see each practice and prepare for the season opener.

Possible new secondary depth: With several defensive backs dealing with injuries, and Cook returning for the first time in a week, Frazier said the team could look at bringing in more help in the secondary.

“We’re going to (look) definitely,” Frazier said. “I know Rick and his scouts are always going to be looking at the wire to see who could potentially be there to help us. That will be ongoing for sure.”

Aside from Cook, safeties Mistral Raymond (lower back spasms) and Andrew Sendejo (ankle sprain), and cornerbacks Chris Carr (lower back spasms), Josh Robinson (concussion) and Marcus Sherels (ankle sprain) all missed practice Sunday. Eric Frampton left Friday’s game with a groin injury, but was back for practice Sunday.

Frazier said the team is still talking about how to get through Thursday’s game with the depleted depth just wants to avoid further injuries. Frazier said rookie safety Robert Blanton would start, playing his first game for Minnesota, and play a majority of the game. Blanton, who missed much of training camp with a hamstring injury, has practiced with the team for over a week.

“We are going to play him quite a bit and that’s one of the reasons we held him out in that last game,” Frazier said. “We wanted to give him an extended look in this final preseason game. We do plan on starting him and playing him for quite a while so we can properly evaluate him as well. He’s missed a lot of time.”

Ponder ready for regular season: Frazier said Ponder won’t play in Thursday’s final preseason game. Coming off a rough performance on Friday against the San Diego Chargers, Ponder believes he and the first-team offense are ready for the regular season.

“Very good, very good,” Ponder said when asked how he feels about the offense. “First two weeks were obviously really good. Even practice last week was really good. Obviously we didn’t (do) what we were supposed to do in the game. Everyone’s a lot (more) comfortable with what we’re doing. Everyone’s healthy. We’ve had a lot of positives and we’ve grown a lot, and everything that we did again Friday is correctable. So, we’ll be ready for Jacksonville.”

Backup quarterbacks get their time: With Ponder being held out of Thursday’s game, Frazier said backup Joe Webb would earn the starting assignment for the final preseason game at Houston. Sage Rosenfels and McLeod Bethel-Thompson will also play Thursday, though Frazier wasn’t sure how the snaps will be split between the three.

“We’re going to end up starting Joe and then we’re going to determine who’s going to be the second and third guy, how much they are going to play,” Frazier said. “We’re going to talk through that a little bit more, but we’re going to start Joe early on. But we definitely want to look at Sage more, definitely want to look at Bethel more. That’s been the plan to get Sage and Bethel more time in this final preseason game. So, we plan on doing that.”

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