Three Vikings starters — running back Dalvin Cook, linebacker Anthony Barr and nose tackle Michael Pierce — are listed questionable to play in Sunday's game against the Browns.
Pierce injured his elbow and shoulder during Thursday's practice, according to coach Mike Zimmer. He was held out of Friday's practice. Afterward, Zimmer shrugged when saying he's "hopeful" Pierce will play against Cleveland's second-ranked rushing attack.
Cook (ankle) and Barr (knee) practiced three straight days, increasing their chances of returning. They remained limited throughout the week. Cornerback Kris Boyd (hamstring) is also listed questionable.
Barr appeared to move well while shuffling through linebacker drills. Cook jogged on his sprained right ankle, injured Sept. 19 in Arizona, during the portion of practice open to reporters. Cook "looked pretty good" in the limited session, Zimmer said.
Left tackle Christian Darrisaw, the team's first-round draft pick, is healthy enough to play against the Browns, practicing without limitations this week for the first time. But Zimmer said he hasn't decided whether to put Darrisaw on the gameday roster, pointing to injuries that will determine how many spots are available. Rashod Hill remains the left tackle for now, even if Darrisaw is active.
"We had four questionables there," Zimmer said, "so I've got to look at what the roster is going to look like probably [Saturday] and Sunday."
Defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson would likely move over center should the Vikings need to replace Pierce at nose tackle. Defensive tackles Sheldon Richardson and Armon Watts would also be in line for more playing time.
Receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette has been ruled out because of a toe injury suffered against the Seahawks. Running back Ameer Abdullah is expected to handle kickoff returns. Corners Bashaud Breeland (illness) and Mackensie Alexander (personal) and tight end Ben Ellefson (neck) returned to practice after sitting out Thursday; they're expected to play.
The Browns announced starting corner Greg Newsome II (calf) and backup tackle Chris Hubbard (triceps) have been ruled out. Two starting offensive linemen — tackle Jedrick Wills (ankle) and center J.C. Tretter (knee) — are listed as questionable.
Avoiding the defensive lapses
The Vikings defense is allowing 410 yards and 26 points per game, but linebacker Eric Kendricks said the new lineup now has "a little experience under our belt playing together," posing the hope they can have a more complete effort after rough stretches in the first three games.
"Not just have a lull like we had in Cincinnati at the end of the half or the same thing in Arizona," co-coordinator Adam Zimmer said. "We just have to be consistent and focus on the details and I think that's what we did in the second half [against Seattle]. We weren't pressing. We were playing what we say. We were playing calm."
Poor run fits plagued the defense early against the Seahawks. But Breeland also remained susceptible in coverage, allowing receiver D.K. Metcalf's 10-yard touchdown grab. It was his fourth touchdown allowed in three games, according to Pro Football Focus.
"He's handling it well. Like I told him, it's a long season," corner Patrick Peterson said of Breeland. "Just go out there and be you. Play fast, play physical, and play shutdown defense like you have in the last two or three seasons. Continue to uplift him throughout games, and let him know that the guys in these purple jerseys are here with him."
'A little bit of Marcus Sherels'
Browns sixth-round draft pick Demetric Felton leads the league with 11 punt returns for 129 yards, challenging the Vikings punt coverage in a way that reminds special teams coordinator Ryan Ficken — a Vikings assistant since 2007 — of the franchise's all-time leader in nearly every punt return category.
"He's a very dynamic returner," Ficken said of Felton. "He kind of reminds me a little bit of Marcus Sherels – pretty shifty, explosive. He's got that one cut, and he can really get to top speed really quickly. So, we've got our work cut out for us."