There's still time for Harrison Smith to clear the concussion protocol before Sunday's game against the Lions, but it's looking more and more like the Vikings may be without their longest-tenured player, who is one of their key defensive players and leaders.
Smith missed another practice on Thursday with the concussion he picked up on Monday night. It doesn't help that this is a short week for the Vikings. Smith hasn't missed a game due to injury since 2016, but that streak is in jeopardy.
"It will be kind of a day-to-day process," Kevin O'Connell said on Wednesday. "He feels pretty good, but we’ll kind of allow that process to play out. Obviously, the sensitivity I have for the protocols and making sure our guys are right, especially early on in the season with a veteran player, we’ll allow Harrison to have the entire process. They’ve got a good protocol in place for this exact reason, and we’ll see how it plays out."
If Smith can't go, Josh Metellus or rookie Lewis Cine would be next in line. Metellus played ten defensive snaps against the Eagles after Smith left the game. Cine played just one defensive snap in his NFL debut.
Vikings defensive coordinator Ed Donatell gave a vague answer when asked who would play if Smith is out.
"Both of them," Donatell said. "Both will be in the mix. Those are things that we don't know. That's days away. We're prepared, and you could see both of them. Either or."
Metellus is one of the Vikings' most important special teams players. He's a leader in that phase who plays on all of their coverage and return units. But the 2020 sixth-round pick out of Michigan has just 80 career defensive snaps to his name, over half of which came in last year's meaningless regular season finale against the Bears.
In theory, Cine should be able to beat Metellus out. He was the Vikings' first-round pick this year after starring in a pro-like defense at Georgia. The Vikings think Cine has the athleticism and skills to become a star.
The issue is that he missed some time during training camp due to injuries, so he's still catching up a little bit, as Donatell put it. Cine missed the Vikings' first game with a knee injury.
"All rookies are always fighting to catch up, I don't care what's going on," he said. "And when you miss time, that compounds it. So he'll — all rookies — will be in a battle until they start next year. We're always playing catch up. It can be done, we have good teachers around him, but we can never rest because there's so much work to be done. This league presents so many challenges that are different every week. Unless you have experience, you can't relate and click into those modes as easily when you're a young player."
Rookie cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. (quad) also missed missed Thursday's practice, suggesting his return may be delayed another week. Either way, Akayleb Evans appears to be the Vikings' No. 3 outside cornerback, and he could push Cameron Dantzler for more snaps after replacing him in the second half on Monday.
For the Lions, D'Andre Swift returned to practice Thursday after missing Wednesday's session. Aidan Hutchinson and Jonah Jackson remained absent, and Tracy Walker was added to the injury report. There's plenty to watch on the Detroit side ahead of the teams' final practices of the week on Friday.
Thanks for reading. Make sure to bookmark this site and check back daily for the latest Vikings news and analysis all offseason long. Also, follow me on Twitter and feel free to ask me any questions on there.