Seemingly every week for the past two months, Adam Thielen's status for the upcoming game has been up in the air. And every week – except for a failed return in Kansas City – Thielen ends up being ruled out because his hamstring isn't at 100 percent.
This could be the week he finally gets back to action. According to a report from ESPN's Adam Schefter, Thielen is expected to play on Sunday against the Chargers barring a setback in practice.
Thielen participated in the Vikings' first practice of the week on Wednesday, which is the first step towards being medically cleared and good to go this Sunday in Los Angeles. Just being out there and going through drills with a helmet on is a positive sign for Thielen, who has been absent from or limited in practice for some time.
Thielen didn't appear to be slowed by the injury as he ran routes and did individual drills with the rest of the wide receivers.
The Vikings offense has stayed afloat without Thielen thanks to the presence of stars Stefon Diggs and Dalvin Cook, as well as increased contributions from Bisi Johnson, Kyle Rudolph, and Irv Smith Jr. But getting Thielen back could be the spark this offense needs to take another step. Putting him back opposite Diggs gives Kirk Cousins an extra big play threat and a reliable option on third downs.
"I’m excited," Cousins said about the possibility of Thielen's imminent return. "The only thing you’re worried about is, ‘Hey, we’ve got a good rhythm going, you know.’ It does feel different when you have him back. It has a different dynamic, so you just joke with him, ‘Hey, don’t rock the boat too much. We’ve been doing pretty good.’ But I would like to think that Adam Thielen is going to help our offense. If nothing else, the corners, the safeties, the linebackers, the defense, they have to honor the fact that he’s on the field opposite Stefon Diggs. You have to cover and be aware of that many more people who have put good stuff on tape in the past.”
To be clear, Cousins was joking about Thielen messing up the offense's dynamic. He's one of the best receivers in the league, and the Vikings have missed his production and skills. Whenever he's able to return, he'll allow them to have another playmaker on the field.
"I think the big difference would just be personnel groupings," Cousins said. "At times where we had [fullback] CJ Ham or a tight end in the game, now you bring Adam in, you're going to have to take one of them out. That's where the difference will be felt or seen, is just the personnel grouping. But as far as the plays or the plan, the way you attack, I don't think it'll be too different. It just gives you probably a little more versatility so that defenses aren't able to say, 'the ball's probably going to this person or this direction on this route.' With more players, with Adam coming back, they have to defend more and stay honest more."
Getting Thielen back this week would be particularly helpful, as the Chargers are fourth in the NFL in both pass defense and total defense in terms of yards allowed. Cornerback Casey Hayward and safety Derwin James are both former Pro Bowlers. Thielen's precision on short and intermediate routes would also give Cousins a quick outlet to avoid the pass rush of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram.
Thielen was officially listed as limited in Wednesday's practice, and there are still two more practices this week in which it's possible he could suffer a setback. That said, it appears Thielen has a much better shot to play on Sunday and finally be over this hamstring injury than he has in a long time.