Cornerback Cameron Dantzler went from a rookie Vikings starter to being in street clothes on the sideline to open his second NFL season, watching his teammates play despite being healthy and available.
Dantzler, a 2020 third-round pick who had two interceptions in 10 starts last year, said the experience was eye-opening.
"It was quite a surprise," he said Thursday. "I feel like that humbled me and made me hungry. Just came to practice every day and worked harder, so that won't ever happen again."
A few circumstances, including improved effort in practices and on special teams as well as an injury to fellow reserve corner Harrison Hand, brought Dantzler out of the doghouse and back onto the field last week in Arizona. He opened the game as a gunner on kickoff coverage and a blocker on punt returns.
By the end of the game, Dantzler was back on defense after corner Bashaud Breeland left with shoulder and back injuries. His third-and-goal deflection on a pass intended for Cardinals receiver A.J. Green was a confidence booster.
"He's starting to embrace his role right now," co-coordinator Adam Zimmer said. "He knows that at any moment, we're going to need him, just like in the game the other day. I was happy he stepped up and made a play, and I have confidence in Cam. I think he's going through what any young player goes through."
Dantzler could be summoned again on defense, especially as Breeland struggles with injuries and inconsistency. His more welcoming attitude toward special teams, where just eight of his 609 snaps last year were spent, will be the main key to staying on the field.
"Last year, I didn't play a lot of special teams," Dantzler said. "So this year, I'm going to do that. I'm up for the challenge. Whatever I have to do to play. Even if it's holding up a field goal, I would do that, just to do whatever to help the team win."
Cook sidelined again
For the second straight day, running back Dalvin Cook was the only Vikings player held out of practice. He watched running back Alexander Mattison lead the backfield in positional drills Thursday. Behind the scenes, Cook is spending a lot of time in the trainer's room trying to mend his sprained ankle to possibly play Sunday.
"Getting treatment and a lot of work done on his ankle," receiver Justin Jefferson said. "If he's able to come back, great. It's great to have him and he's definitely a big part of this offense. If not, we definitely are looking forward to [Mattison] and Ameer [Abdullah] to step up."
Four players were limited Thursday in linebacker Anthony Barr (knee), cornerback Patrick Peterson (toe), defensive end Everson Griffen (concussion) and tackle Christian Darrisaw (groin). Linebacker Eric Kendricks (hip) and Breeland (shoulder/back) ramped up their work as full participants.
'The same mentality'
The Vikings are pressing forward with kicker Greg Joseph after he missed two of his seven kicks in the 34-33 loss to the Cardinals, including the potential game-winning field goal from 37 yards away in the closing seconds. While all four of Joseph's misses going back to the preseason have been wide right, special teams coordinator Ryan Ficken said his main focus with Joseph is bringing a calm approach to every scenario.
"We've talked about a couple things, but what it boils down to, we've got to approach every kick with the same mentality," Ficken said. "It doesn't matter if it's a game-winner or if it's the first kick of the game, a PAT, or a long field goal."