Vikings second-year tight end Irv Smith Jr. returned to practice on Thursday in a limited capacity, putting him on track to potentially play this week in Tampa after missing two straight games with a back injury.
“We just got off the field and he picked up his work today," offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak said. "So we’re heading in the right direction toward Sunday. With Rudy’s situation, we’re going to call on him and Conk a great deal. But a good positive day today and hopefully another one tomorrow.”
That quote from Kubiak feels like good news for Smith's chances of playing on Sunday, but it also seems to indicate that Kyle Rudolph might be a longshot to play through a foot injury this week. Rudolph hasn't practiced yet this week, and if he can't return on Friday, he will likely see his streak of playing in 93 consecutive regular season games (and five playoff games, for a total of 98) come to an end.
Rudolph suffered the foot injury late in last Sunday's win over the Jaguars.
Getting Smith back would be massive for the Vikings' offense. When he didn't practice Wednesday, it raised the possibility of Tyler Conklin being the team's only healthy tight end. That would be an issue for an offense that relies heavily on two-tight end sets and the contributions from that position in both the running and passing game. With Brandon Dillon on IR, the team signed Hale Hentges off the Colts' practice squad, but he won't be available this week.
Unfortunately, Smith returning to practice is the only change from Wednesday's extensive injury report. That means it was another day of missed practice for star linebacker Eric Kendricks (calf), the team's recently-named Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee for 2020. If Kendricks can't return to practice on Friday, he too could miss this week's game. That would be a big blow considering he's arguably the most valuable player on Minnesota's defense. Playing without Kendricks against the Buccaneers is much different than playing without him against the Jaguars.
Alexander Mattison was also out against Thursday as he recovers from an appendectomy. Mike Boone and Ameer Abdullah will likely serve as the Vikings' backup running backs for the second straight week.
Jeff Gladney, D.J. Wonnum, Riley Reiff, Garrett Bradbury, and Ezra Cleveland all remained limited at Thursday's practice. It will be worth watching to see which, if any, of those players can upgrade to full participation on Friday. I'd imagine several members of that group will be ultimately listed as questionable leading into Sunday's game.
For the Buccaneers, Lavonte David and Chris Godwin were full participants in practice after sitting out on Wednesday. However, top cornerback Jamel Dean remained out and Mike Evans went from a limited participant Wednesday to missing Thursday's session.
Here's the full injury report from Thursday:
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