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Vikings’ secondary struggled at Detroit, but Harrison Smith returns this week

Smith was limited Tuesday before being a full participant Wednesday and Thursday.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Washington Commanders
Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith intercepts a pass intended for Washington Commanders tight end Logan Thomas in the fourth quarter Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022. The play was key in the Vikings' comeback and 20-17 road win.
Geoff Burke / USA Today Sports
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EAGAN, Minn. -- Much to the Minnesota Vikings’ relief, star safety Harrison Smith will be back in the lineup Saturday.

Smith sat out last Sunday’s 34-23 loss at Detroit, and it didn’t go well. Minnesota’s secondary was picked apart by Lions quarterback Jared Goff, who threw three touchdown passes, two on long throws to wide-open receivers.

Smith wasn’t on the Vikings’ final injury report Thursday, and will return to play against Indianapolis at U.S. Bank Stadium.

“I’m excited, very excited,” Smith said. “You don’t want to miss any games, but it’s a long season, so good to be back. … (Last Sunday’s game) didn’t go the way we wanted, but we move on.”

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Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell said “it’ll be nice to get Harry back in there and kind of help with the communication.” The Vikings had breakdowns in the secondary at Detroit, including when Goff found open receivers Jameson Williams and D.J. Chark for TD strikes of 41 and 48 yards, respectively.

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On Saturday, the Vikings also will get back left tackle Christian Darrisaw, who missed the past three games with a concussion, and most likely center Garrett Bradbury, who sat out against the Lions with a back injury. O’Connell said Bradbury is a “tough guy” who will “try to go.”

Bradbury was one of five players listed as questionable for this week’s game, and O’Connell said all “have a good chance to go.” The list includes outside linebackers Danielle Hunter (neck) and Patrick Jones II (illness), cornerback Cameron Dantzler (illness) and defensive tackle Harrison Phillips (back).

Hunter, who sat out the 2020 season after neck surgery, was not on the injury report Tuesday before being limited in practices Wednesday and Thursday.

“It was just dealing with some soreness,” said O’Connell, who gave few specifics about the injury. “He still got in quite a bit of work (Wednesday). … He did some good things (Thursday), but we’ll kind of evaluate that toward kickoff.”

Dantzler was limited in practice Thursday after missing two days. Phillips was limited Wednesday and Thursday after sitting out Tuesday. Jones was not on the injury report until sitting out Thursday.

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Smith was limited Tuesday before being a full participant Wednesday and Thursday. He declined to say much about his neck injury, but did summarize what the Vikings must do to overcome their recent defensive woes.

“Tighten up the coverage, don’t let guys get behind us on the back end, put pressure on the quarterback, stop the run,” he said. “Basic stuff. Got to execute.”

The Colts listed two players as out — cornerback Kenny Moore II (ankle) and wide receiver Mike Strachan (concussion) — and one as doubtful — cornerback Brandon Facyson (illness).

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Tight end ‘close’

Tight end Irv Smith Jr. will miss his seventh straight game Saturday due to a high ankle sprain, but his return from injured reserve does not seem far off.

“He’s close,” O’Connell said. “I think he’s done a really nice job of attacking that rebab. … We’ll see where he’s at, coming off this thing as far as when we want to activate that window to allow him to start practicing.”

Smith has been doing work on the side of the field. The first move for the Vikings would be to designate him to return from injured reserve, which would open a 21-day window in which they could activate him.

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Irv Smith Jr.
Courtesy Minnesota Vikings

On Dec. 7, Minnesota designated rookie running back Ty Chandler to return from injured reserve after he suffered a broken thumb Oct. 9 against Chicago. Chandler said he’s fully healed but has “no clue” when he might be activated. He said he’s willing to remain patient.

“Just trying to stay ready for whenever my name is called,” he said.

Kwenkue ‘blessed’

Rookie linebacker William Kwenkeu was on the Vikings’ practice squad Wednesday when he got a message to go see a team official.

“I wasn’t sure what was happening,” he said. “I was kind of nervous a little bit.”

It turned out to be good news. Kwenkeu was signed to the 53-man roster.

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“It’s pretty amazing,” said the undrafted Kwenkue. “I feel honored and blessed.”

O’Connell said Kwenkeu, who had been elevated to the active roster for two previous games, earned it. “He is just flying around the field,” the coach said. “He’s been incredibly impactful on (special) teams.”

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