Dalvin Cook returned to practice Thursday as a full participant, indicating the Vikings running back could play Sunday against the Saints after dislocating his left shoulder last week.
Cook said Wednesday that his return is dependent not on pain tolerance, but rather "being smart about how I get through this thing." Head coach Kevin O'Connell said the team will do what's in the best interest of Cook playing the most games this season. Cook has previously worn a brace and played through shoulder injuries. Running back Alexander Mattison would start if Cook is held out, but Cook's full practice indicates he's on track to play.
"You just feel confident no matter who's in the game when you have a couple guys like that," offensive coordinator Wes Phillips said. "It's actually my first real experience with having two guys that you feel really good and are starting-caliber backs."
Outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith remained sidelined because of a knee injury, as did Saints quarterback Jameis Winston (back/ankle) and receiver Michael Thomas (foot). Quarterback Andy Dalton has led the Saints offense in practice in London this week. Receiver Jarvis Landry (foot) and guard Andrus Peat (concussion) returned and were limited in practice.
Vikings cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. (quad) was held out and continued to rehab on a side field at practice. Fullback C.J. Ham (foot) returned as a full participant.
Outside linebacker D.J. Wonnum would likely start for Smith, who injured his knee in the closing minutes against the Lions but did not leave the game. Wonnum, who has 16 starts in three seasons, said he's feeling more comfortable in a 3-4 defense similar to what he played at South Carolina.
"I'm able to see more, use my athleticism being on the edge," said Wonnum, who has two sacks in three games. "Just playing free. They give us a lot of freedom on the edge. Being comfortable is very important and I'm definitely comfortable in this scheme."
Across the pond
The Vikings will depart for London on Thursday evening after practice, with coaches and players scheduled to take off around 7 p.m. and land about 2:30 a.m. Central time. That makes Friday perhaps the toughest part of the trip as players will work out upon arriving and will be instructed to stay awake through the day.
The adjustment will test how well players like 315-pound left tackle Christian Darrisaw can sleep on a flight.
"We're going to have to stay up throughout the whole day," Darrisaw said. "[Sleep] on that flight will definitely be important, so whatever I have to do to get that in, I'm definitely going to do."
Reaching 'that trust level' with Cine
O'Connell said he still sees first-round safety Lewis Cine as being an "impactful rookie" this season as he contributes on special teams and tries to build trust with teammates and coaches on defense. Safety Harrison Smith is expected to return Sunday after he missed last week's win in the concussion protocol. Safety Josh Metellus got his first NFL start over Cine, the 32nd overall pick.
"The important thing for me is that we're doing everything we can to continue their development," O'Connell said. "Some of which will be getting them real, tangible snaps and having that trust level with those guys just like we do all of our guys."
The other football
Receiver Adam Thielen had five catches for 98 yards and a touchdown in the Vikings' last trip to London in 2017, which boosted a 33-16 win against the Browns at Twickenham Stadium. He celebrated the score with a soccer-style knee slide, and said Thursday he has another soccer-inspired celebration prepared should he score against the Saints.
"My favorite is when the kicking game goes out there, they get really excited," Thielen said. "Whether it's a punt or a field goal, the crowd gets into those."