Vikings left tackle Christian Darrisaw has been ruled out for Sunday's game against the Jets as he remains in the concussion protocol. But cornerback Akayleb Evans, the fourth-round rookie, has cleared the steps of the protocol and is expected to get his second NFL start.
Evans has missed the past two games due to a concussion suffered in the Nov. 13 win in Buffalo, where he made his first start for the injured Cameron Dantzler. His return Sunday bolsters a thinned secondary that's also without rookie corner Andrew Booth Jr., who is on injured reserve after knee surgery this week.
Evans, 23, said he was an active observer while watching the Vikings' Thanksgiving night win against the Patriots with family.
"I was in my apartment getting in my stance," Evans said. "I just wanted to play."
Blake Brandel is expected to start again at left tackle, where Darrisaw will miss a second game after suffering a second concussion within a month during the Nov. 20 loss to the Cowboys. Darrisaw returned to practice Friday wearing a red no-contact jersey.
"[Brandel] played a really solid game," head coach Kevin O'Connell said of Brandel's first start against the Patriots. "We're going to need that same kind of effort against this group. They're one of the best in our league."
Just four days after taking a career-high seven sacks against the Cowboys, quarterback Kirk Cousins was better protected against New England and took only one sack. Offensive coordinator Wes Phillips said coaches didn't have their best outing against Dallas.
"Sometimes the plan that you have versus the plan that they came up with doesn't mesh well," Phillips said. "I put a lot of that on us. The players, they're always the ones out there playing and they have a responsibility, but I do feel like if we obviously played Dallas again that we would do some things differently."
Defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson has been cleared to return from a four-game absence due to a calf injury. Tight end Ben Ellefson (groin) has been ruled out. Defensive lineman Ross Blacklock is questionable with an illness that kept him out of Friday's practice.
The Jets will likely be without running back Michael Carter. He's listed doubtful due to an ankle injury. Safety Ashtyn Davis (hamstring) has been ruled out and tackle Cedric Ogbuehi (groin) is doubtful. Defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins is expected to return from a two-game absence.
Field position battle
The Vikings' punt coverage has recently been tested by two of the NFL's best in Cowboys returner KaVontae Turpin (12.4 yards per) and Patriots returner Marcus Jones (14.7 yards per). Another highly ranked returner awaits in the Jets' Braxton Berrios, who averages 12.4 yards.
Receiver Jalen Nailor and edge rushers Patrick Jones and D.J. Wonnum have been up to the task with key stops while holding the past two foes to a 7.5-yard average. Ryan Wright ranks second leaguewide with 51% of punts pinned inside the opposing 20-yard line.
"It's good for us," special teams coordinator Matt Daniels said. "Kind of build up that callus and get ready to see how we compete against some of the best."
'A little bit of awareness'
Players will sport causes that matter to them during Sunday's game for the NFL's "My Cause My Cleats" weekend. Receiver Justin Jefferson's cleats will represent the Northside Achievement Zone in north Minneapolis. Fullback C.J. Ham will represent the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. Receiver Adam Thielen will showcase his foundation, which supports youth development in Minnesota.
"To hopefully bring a little bit of awareness," Thielen said, "and how we're able to make an impact is really cool."
- Running back Dalvin Cook on an aggressive Jets defensive front: "A group that flies around, plays physical, knows where they supposed to be at. We've got to match that intensity. We've got to go play a clean game, but we got to go match their physicality."
- Jets rookie receiver Garrett Wilson to New York reporters: Jefferson "doesn't seem like he's overthinking his routes. He's true to his movement. He embraces how he moves and didn't try to copy another receiver. ... I'm excited to watch him this weekend."