Wide receiver Justin Jefferson ran routes at the beginning of Vikings practice Thursday, testing his injured left ankle before heading inside for rehab. But Jefferson said he'll be ready to play Sunday against the Panthers.
"Ankle is just a little sore, so doing treatment on it and give it a little rest," he said. "I'm good to go."
If Jefferson is indeed ready to play Sunday, he'll likely be the focus of Carolina's pass defense as he has been for most of the Vikings' first five opponents. But he'll face a Panthers secondary that plays plenty of man coverage with a single high safety. Carolina defensive coordinator Phil Snow is also fond of sending extra pressure after quarterbacks, which could mean opportunities for Jefferson to win one-on-one matchups and connect with Kirk Cousins downfield.
"If they're blitzing, it means that somebody is man-to-man, so that definitely rings a bell for us," Jefferson said. "That's trigger-happy for us."
Wide receiver Adam Thielen, who didn't practice Wednesday because of a foot injury, also ran routes at the beginning of Thursday's practice before heading indoors. Linebacker Anthony Barr (knee) and running back Alexander Mattison (shoulder) were back for the open portion of practice, but tight end Ben Ellefson (knee) remained out. Nose tackle Michael Pierce warmed up with teammates, but did not practice for the second consecutive day, and is likely to miss Sunday's game because of the elbow injury that kept him out last week.
Cook a full participant
Running back Dalvin Cook took part in the Vikings' entire practice, becoming a full participant for the first time since he sprained his right ankle in Arizona on Sept. 19. If Cook is still feeling good Friday, it would indicate he's ready to return to a larger workload in Carolina on Sunday after sitting out two of the Vikings' past three games.
When Cook last played against the Browns, he carried only nine times for 34 yards before sitting out last week against Detroit. In his absence, Mattison had 113 yards on 25 carries last week, marking the second time in three weeks he's recorded 32 touches in a game with Cook out.
Dantzler activated from COVID-19 list
The Vikings added Cameron Dantzler back to their active roster Thursday, 10 days after the cornerback tested positive for COVID-19. Dantzler returned to practice, though co-defensive coordinator Adam Zimmer said the Vikings would need to see how fit Dantzler is before deciding whether to use him against the Panthers.
"With him not being here for the last 10 days or whatever, we have to see the shape he's in, and we'll get a good look at that in practice and see how it goes," Zimmer said. "We know Cam; he did a good job staying up with his workouts and things."
Kendricks has 'great feel for the game'
When linebacker Eric Kendricks dropped into a zone against Lions quarterback Jared Goff on Sunday, he tried to crouch a little lower so Goff wouldn't see him behind the Vikings' line.
That's not a technique Adam Zimmer has taught in his seven season as Kendricks' position coach. "That's Eric being Eric; we don't teach them to crouch down and hide," he said. "He's short enough [6-0] already that they probably aren't going to see him."
The play Kendricks made, getting one hand on the ball for an interception that stopped a Lions drive at the Vikings' 15-yard line, was an indicator of how much the 2019 All-Pro has improved over his time in the league. He now has four of his career eight interceptions in the past nine games he's been on the field; his previous one came deep in Vikings territory in the second quarter against the Panthers last year, on a ball that should have been linebacker Eric Wilson's play to make.
"When he first came out, he wanted to make every play in the field, even though it wasn't his play, and now I think he understands that, 'If I'm where I'm supposed to be, the plays are going to come to me,'" Zimmer said. "He also understands when the time is [that] he can take a chance, you know? If a hole opens big and he shoots the gap; I've told him, 'I trust you to make those plays because you've done it so many times.'
"With the young guys I say, 'You can't do that' when I talk to, like, Chaz [Surratt] or any of them other than Anthony [Barr] and Eric. I give them [Barr and Kendricks] a little leeway."