Vikings TE Irv Smith feels good in return from ankle injury, adjusts to working with T.J. Hockenson
After being the day 1 starter, Smith is now No. 2 behind Hockenson
EAGAN, Minn. — Earlier this season, Irv Smith Jr. was the top tight end on the Minnesota Vikings. Now, he’s the No. 2 guy.
But Smith has no problem with that. He was happy to return for last Sunday’s regular-season finale at Chicago after missing nine games with a high ankle sprain suffered Oct. 30 against Arizona. Two days after that, Minnesota acquired tight end T.J. Hockenson from Detroit, and he made the Pro Bowl.
Now, the Vikings will take on the New York Giants in Sunday’s playoff opener at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“We kind of mix in different things, and T.J.’s done an amazing job coming in and making plays,” Smith said Friday. “As a tight end, us coming in together in the (2019 draft) class, we knew each other well, and got to learn from each other. It’s only going to make each other better and push each other to be the best.”
Smith has been plagued by injuries over the past two seasons. He missed all of 2021 due to a knee injury and all of the 2022 preseason with a thumb issue. And then came his latest setback.
“It’s been crazy battling injuries, but it’s part of the game,” Smith said. “You kind of learn a lot in terms of yourself and the mental aspect. … I’m just blessed to be in this opportunity and be able to come back in the playoffs and make an impact.”
Smith said he’s now fully healthy. To help prepare for the playoffs, he said it was good getting back for the 29-13 win over the Bears, a game in which he caught three passes for 14 yards.
“It was very beneficial being out for nine weeks and then getting my feet out there, making some plays in the run game and the pass game,” Smith said. “It was good definitely getting out there and getting a feel with T.J. and (tight end) Johnny (Mundt), and just getting back out there with (quarterback) Kirk (Cousins). … It’s awesome being back in the offense.”
Three Vikings questionable
The Vikings listed three players as questionable for Sunday’s game, and the hope is all will play.
Star safety Harrison Smith, who sat out at Chicago, was limited in practice during the week with knee soreness. But Minnesota coach Kevin O’Connell said he has “no reason to believe Harry wouldn’t be there” against the Giants.
Running back Kene Nwangwu, named second-team All-Pro on Friday as a kickoff returner, missed practice Friday due to an illness. O’Connell said the Vikings are “excited to get him back” hopefully at the TCO Performance Center on Saturday, but if can’t play Sunday, rookie running back Ty Chandler would handle kickoff returns.
Cornerback Cameron Dantzler, who began the season as a starter but now backs up Duke Shelley, missed the entire week of practice due to what O’Connell called a “pretty serious” personal matter. The coach said Dantzler, who has missed seven of the past nine games while battling ankle issues, has “been keeping tabs on the game plan,” and the Vikings hope to have him back to face the Giants.
The Giants listed no players with an injury designation on their final report.
All business for Tomlinson
In the week prior to Minnesota’s 27-24 win over the Giants on Dec. 24, defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson had some social communication with some former teammates. But not this week.
“I’m just locked in,” said Tomlinson, who played for the Giants from 2017-20. “Playoff week.”
Last month’s game marked the first time Tomlinson had gone against his former team.
“I was super excited the whole game,” he said. “It was good to see some old faces.”
But Sunday’s meeting looks to be all business.
“It's a one-week season,” Tomlinson said. “I feel like the attention goes up that much, and I just want to make sure we can execute the game plan and come up with the win.”
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