Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer announced defensive tackle Shamar Stephen had a knee procedure while offensive tackle Carter Bykowski had shoulder surgery.
Zimmer expects Stephen to be ready for the Vikings’ season opener against the 49ers, but Bykowski’s return is unknown at this point.
“I don’t know yet,” said Zimmer when asked whether Bykowski will be out for the season.
Zimmer said Stephen had a scope but didn’t disclose which knee he injured. Stephen, who served as a backup nose and three-technique tackle last season as a rookie, entered training camp on the non-football injury list with a left knee injury.
The Vikings have mixed in Chigbo Anunoby and rookie B.J. Dubose with the second team in Stephen’s absence. Defensive end Scott Crichton also received reps at the backup three-technique tackle position during Wednesday’s practice.
“Those guys will get some more reps this week, but we anticipate [Stephen] will be back for the season [opener],” Zimmer said.
Bykowski, an Eden Prairie native, is the second injury at offensive tackle during training camp. The team placed starting right tackle Phil Loadholt on injured reserve this week due to a torn Achilles. Bykowski, who was acquired during Week 15 last season from the 49ers practice squad, served as backup tackle during training camp. T.J. Clemmings and David Yankey worked with the second team at the tackle positions, and Zimmer said the Vikings have also thrown in rookie guard Austin Shepherd at tackle.
Outside of Stephen and Bykowski, safety Antone Exum has been sidelined this week due to a hamstring injury and center John Sullivan was not at Wednesday’s practice due to spasms. Rookie tight end MyCole Pruitt (ankle) and cornerback Josh Robinson (pectoral) also did not participate.
The Vikings haven’t suffered the typical rash of hamstring injuries that normally strike their secondary in training camp. But that doesn’t mean the team isn’t dealing with depth issues — particularly at cornerback — as it continues to get things in order for the Sept. 14 season opener at San Francisco.
For starters, Josh Robinson (pectoral) remains on PUP and it doesn’t appear that he’s coming off any time soon. Secondly, promising second-year corner Jabari Price must serve a two-game suspension before he can join the mix again once the regular season starts.
With those two situations going on and the rookie Trae Waynes’ not-quite-as-fast-as-expected rise through depth chart, coach Mike Zimmer was asked if he’s comfortable with his depth at cornerback.
“Yes, I am,” Zimmer said. “I like our corners. I think we’ve got a lot of good corners that have a chance. Josh Thomas has come in and he’s shown some things. DeMarcus Van Dyke is a guy, all those guys that we have now are guys that can really run, can really accelerate. We’re starting to get some length in there, so all of these guys have a chance.
“And Van Dyke has played. Thomas, I think he started 10 games or something like that. So, these guys are all guys that have played in the league.”
When a coach throws out names unsolicited, experience covering NFL teams has shown some of us that the first name is the one to keep an eye on. Thomas has played 43 regular season games with the Lions, Jets, Seahawks and Panthers since 2011.
Asked what he likes specifically about Thomas, Zimmer said, “Quickness, acceleration, speed. He was a good special teams player and I think he’s a willing learner for just trying to come in now and trying to get the techniques and the things we’re trying to teach.”
Zimmer, being a coach who specializes in teaching defensive backs, isn’t totally satisfied with things in the secondary.
“I don’t like everything that we’re doing right now,” he said. “We’re undisciplined in some areas that we need to get better at. If we can get some of these little mistakes corrected, I think we have a chance to have a good secondary, yes.”
Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Priefer has been enjoying the plethora of options he has during the preseason, with the 90-man roster giving him lots of players at his disposal for his specialty units.
“It’s not a handicap at all,” Priefer said Wednesday at Winter Park. “[Against Tampa Bay] we used 50 different guys in four phases alone. We like to train all these guys … we work three punt teams, three kickoff teams, two punt return, two kickoff return, three field goal teams. The more guys you prepare the better, because those last 8-10 spots you don’t know who they are going to be. No. 2, if we release them, they have a chance to go somewhere else and make a team.
Priefer said Cordarrelle Patterson certainly figures to be the team’s lead kickoff return man, even though the Vikings have used and will use different players in that role in the preseason.
“[Patterson] knows we have to prepare in case he’s not the kickoff returner if he’s injured or if he’s involved in the offense a lot more, whatever the case may be,” Priefer said. “If he’s fresh he’ll be back there … if he’s healthy he’ll be back there. He knows he’ll get more touches as the preseason goes on to prepare him for the regular season.”
It seems clear Priefer would like sure-handed veteran Marcus Sherels to be his punt return man when the regular season comes.
“Sherels more than likely will be our [punt] returner if everything works toward what I would like obviously,” Priefer said. “He’s [also] an excellent backup kickoff returner and he can play halfback on a kickoff return team because he’s an effective blocker as well, no matter what his size is.”
The Vikings looked strong in the punt return category in the preseason, but Priefer said that’s mostly because they aren’t guarding against fake punts.
“Starting now in the preseason and then into the regular season, fourth and short, I can’t have six in the box [because] they can fake it at any time,” he said. “Obviously we’re out there to defend against the fake first, or any broken formation or whatever the case may be, and from there get a big return. We’ve been working a lot of technique right now, assuming the other team isn’t going to fake a punt this early in the preseason.”
Rookie Stefon Diggs has been flashier in the punt return department so far, but Priefer said, “Stefon had the benefit of some really great blocking and he’s done a great job of hitting the seams. Marcus has had two pretty explosive returns himself without the benefit of as much blocking. It’s a great battle so far.”