Jerick McKinnon popped up on the injury report yesterday with a lower back injury, something that has been nagging the rookie running back for a little while now. But both head coach Mike Zimmer and McKinnon said that it won’t affect McKinnon’s status or his role for Sunday’s game in Chicago.
“It’s just something that I’ve been dealing with,” said McKinnon, who has been getting treatment for the injury. “I was feeling good today, moving around pretty good. So I’m just ready for Sunday.”
McKinnon said he suffered the injury “in the facility just doing some work.” He wouldn’t elaborate.
McKinnon was officially listed as probable on the injury report, and the injury shouldn’t prevent McKinnon, the NFL’s leading rusher among rookies with 446 yards, from getting the majority of the carries against the Bears, though Matt Asiata will remain involved, especially if near the goal line.
“I’d be pretty comfortable with whatever workload they place on me,” McKinnon said.
Zimmer also said that he expects Kyle Rudolph to suit up Sunday, though it is unclear if the tight end in his return will re-assume the large workload he had before sports hernia surgery in Week 3.
Rudolph was listed as probable. His backup, Chase Ford, is also probable despite a foot injury.
Offensive tackle Mike Harris (ankle) and rookie defensive end Scott Crichton (hip) are questionable. Harris practiced Wednesday and Thursday but sat out today with what looks to be a new injury.
Tight end Martellus Bennett, cornerback Tim Jennings and wide-out Brandon Marshall were among the five players the Bears listed as probable. Offensive tackle Jordan Mills is doubtful. Defensive end Trevor Scott, offensive lineman Eben Britton and linebacker Darryl Sharpton were ruled out.
Sunday will be a homecoming of sorts for Mike Zimmer, not that he cares about that sort of thing.
The 58-year-old head coach was born in Peoria, Illinois and grew up watching the Bears. He played high school football at Lockport Township High School and played his college ball at Illinois State.
But Zimmer doesn’t anticipate feeling even a tinge of nostalgia when he walks onto the sideline with the Vikings on Sunday afternoon for his first game at Soldier Field as an NFL head coach.
“Well, I’ve been there a few times previously,” Zimmer said today. “I don’t think so. I don’t have anybody coming to the game or anything like that. I was a Bears fan growing up. I spent a lot of time with Buddy Ryan and his defenses, growing up watching them. But the Vikings are my team now.”
When he first began coaching, the Bears were in the heyday of Mike Ditka and Ryan, his defensive coordinator. Zimmer looked up to Ryan from afar and eventually got to meet him through coaching.
“Anytime you’re around great coaches and guys that in a lot of ways reinvented the game back then in 1985, I think you always try to take some of it, whether it’s the mentality that he had,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to sit in some of their defensive meetings. I had him come out when I was coaching at Weber State. I had him come out and do a clinic for us, sat down and had a couple of beers with him. But I think you always try to learn from the guys that are really, really good.”
And while Zimmer probably won’t be thinking about it Sunday, he does have a soft spot for Chicago.
“I used to love watching when Buddy Ryan was there as a defensive coordinator and Ditka, the ’85 Bears and all those things. That’s kind of when I was growing up,” Zimmer told Chicago reporters on a Wednesday conference call. “You know, the Bears fans and the Chicago people in general are great, great people. They’ve always been very, very passionate about the Bears and the Cubs and the White Sox. But I don’t put a lot of time and effort into worrying about them right now.”
In case you didn’t pick up the newspaper this morning, today’s Vikings story was on their young secondary growing up this season. Their five defensive backs in their starting nickel package have an average age of 24.6, making them one of the youngest secondaries in the NFL.
Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, who was signed after five seasons with the Panthers, is the oldest of the regulars at 26, and he has embraced a leadership role with his younger peers, such as Xavier Rhodes and Josh Robinson, even though they playfully give him grief about his age.
“I’ve been the old guy in the room before and I’ve played a lot of football,” said Munnerlyn, who has two interceptions the past two games. “So I’ve had to help teach those guys while I’m learning.”
Munnerlyn wasn’t the oldest guy in Carolina last season, when the Panthers finished sixth in the league in pass defense. But the Panthers did rely on some young players in the secondary, so his first season in Minnesota reminds him a little bit of his final season in Carolina.
Fellow Vikings defensive backs speak highly of the character and leadership he has brought here.
“Captain is a vocal guy. He’s the guy that lets you know, ‘OK, that wasn’t me. That was you. So get it right.’ And that’s OK,” Robinson said. “It helps you know that, ‘OK, I have to do my job,’ because he’s going to point it out when you don’t.”
That leadership style might seem a little abrasive — and trust me, Munnerlyn will readily admit when he was the one who screwed up — but accountability was needed after the Vikings were 31st in the league in pass defense in 2013 and allowed a league-high 37 passing touchdowns.
This season, the Vikings rank fourth in the league in pass defense through 10 weeks. There are many reasons why that is the case, and Munnerlyn’s presence is one of them.
“It’s all about getting experience together,” he said. “When you can have the same guys on the field, that’s always a great thing. So we’re just getting better each and every day with each other. That’s the key. Being a young secondary, working our tail off out here on the practice field then going into the film room and talking plays out. Being a younger secondary, you guys have to put in the work.”