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The Vikings will start the regular season at home three weeks from Sunday against the Packers. Coach Kevin O'Connell remains optimistic that when they do, they'll have tight end Irv Smith Jr. back on the field.

Smith, who had surgery on his right thumb on Aug. 2, remains on track to return for the start of the regular season, O'Connell said Thursday.

"Everything with Irv has been really positive," O'Connell said. "You guys will see him during these practices — he's out there with [tight ends] Coach [Brian] Angelichio. He's done a ton of work on the side. He's now allowed to start sweating and making sure he's keeping his conditioning where we need it."

Assuming Smith's recovery from surgery continues to go well, he'll likely play a major role in the Vikings' offense to start the season. In the next several days, O'Connell said, the Vikings will work out some ways to get Smith in the huddle during their practices, even if he's not ready to handle a football yet.

"Although he may not be able to catch for a few more days, we can actually have him out there hearing play calls, getting back in there, because we want him to pick up where he left off," O'Connell said.

Reed remains out with elbow injury

Offensive lineman Chris Reed, who did not play in the Vikings' first preseason game on Sunday, is dealing with a right elbow issue that kept him out of the team's two joint practices with the 49ers. O'Connell said Reed is "what I consider day-to-day — maybe a little more than that," but he added the Vikings are still hopeful they can get Reed back in practice during the preseason.

If he can recover in time, Reed could be the Vikings' No. 2 center, or possibly an alternative to Garrett Bradbury if the starter struggles early in the year. O'Connell said Reed is "definitely still in the mix, at both center and guard," but the Vikings' focus for now is trying to get him back for either the 49ers game Saturday or the Broncos game next week.

O'Connell said rookie running back Ty Chandler, who had 50 rushing yards and a 56-yard kick return against the Raiders on Sunday, has "a little bit of a rolled ankle," though he was still hopeful Chandler could play against the 49ers. Parry Nickerson missed practice with a lower leg injury that O'Connell said the defensive back sustained on his interception Wednesday.

Joint practices vs. preseason games

During two days of practice with the 49ers, Vikings players took umbrage at times with San Francisco's aggressive practice style, but players avoided the fistfights that both O'Connell and San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan told their teams they would not tolerate.

The work both teams got for their starters, in fact, might be enough to keep some of them from playing Saturday night. O'Connell would not reveal his plans for the Vikings' lineup in the team's only home preseason game, but said the joint practices can serve as a replacement for exhibition game work in some cases.

"The old standard of 'Hey, the starters play the first quarter of the first preseason game, and then maybe into the second quarter in the second, and then into the third quarter in the third,' I don't want to speak for anybody, but that's really not the case anymore," O'Connell said. "So I think now these joint practices give you the repetition and the volume you need without necessarily needing to be tackled to the ground every snap."

He added that Wednesday's joint practice "ranked right up at the top for me as far as the efficiency of the work and the value of the day vs. a really good team."