During his first interview Wednesday with local reporters since returning from the COVID-19 list last month, Vikings safety Harrison Smith described the 10-day isolation that began with a positive test the morning of Nov. 7, hours before kickoff against the Ravens.
Unable to travel with the team upon testing positive, he was soon on a private jet from Baltimore to Minneapolis.
"The Wilfs provided a plane," Smith said, "so I appreciate that."
He said he slightly lost his sense of taste but was otherwise healthy through a positive case that forced him to miss two games against the Ravens and Chargers.
While some teammates have had lasting effects, and guard Dakota Dozier was hospitalized from COVID-19, Smith said he has not had lasting effects, and said that's why he won't get vaccinated.
"It was weird," Smith said. "I tested on game day and I tested the next day just to confirm it. It's weird when you feel healthy and you don't play. But I get it. That's how the virus works."
He quickly made an impact against San Francisco, intercepting 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo on the opening drive. Minnesota's defensive experience is what Smith cited when saying this year's 5-6 record is different from 2020. But the Vikings are still trying to find a formula for closing the first half, allowing a league-high 66 points within the two-minute warning before halftime. Coach Mike Zimmer has referenced simplifying play calls in those moments.
"Sometimes players have to play better, too," Smith said. "That's part of the deal as well. It's a team effort. That's definitely an area of focus for us."
Smith, 32, was credited with a team-high 11 combined tackles against the 49ers without a miss, according to Pro Football Focus.
Pierce, Tomlinson could return Sunday
Nose tackle Michael Pierce and defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson could return Sunday against the Lions. Co-coordinator Andre Patterson is hoping Tomlinson will be cleared Thursday upon reaching the minimum 10-day quarantine required of positive unvaccinated cases. Pierce participated in a walkthrough Wednesday after being cleared to practice. He is eligible to return this week from injured reserve after a three-game stay with an elbow injury that has caused him to miss seven games.
"Hopefully they can continue to progress, and get out there and play for us on Sunday," Patterson said. "It would be great to get those guys back. They're both tremendous players. You know how excited I was about Mike after the first couple games."
Linebacker Anthony Barr (hamstring) joined teammates on the field with a sleeve on his injured right hamstring, but he did not practice. Nor did left tackle Christian Darrisaw (ankle), running back Dalvin Cook (shoulder) or safety Camryn Bynum (ankle).
Zimmer was complimenting left guard Ezra Cleveland's second NFL season during his Wednesday news conference when he veered into a different direction with the offensive line. The Vikings have an NFL-low six rushing touchdowns and haven't averaged 4 yards per rush in a game since Nov. 7 in Baltimore. Now they're likely led by running back Alexander Mattison following Cook's injury, with rookie running back Kene Nwangwu spelling him. Blocking needs to improve quickly.
"When we are running a zone play or a double-team play," Zimmer said, "we need to be a little bit more aggressive."
- Four practice squad players — defensive end Kenny Willekes, defensive tackle T.J. Smith, safety Myles Dorn and cornerback Tye Smith — were so-called "protected" by the Vikings. Under COVID rules, teams can block up to four players from signing to other active rosters.
- Patterson added Willekes, who tested positive Nov. 12 and has missed two games since being activated from the COVID list, "hasn't been healthy" enough to play yet. "If he's healthy and he can go and play on Sunday, he's gonna play."
- Receiver Olabisi Johnson, who is on injured reserve rehabbing a torn ACL suffered in training camp, became the 11th player since Nov. 4 quarantined on the reserve/COVID-19 list.