See more of the story

Vikings safety Harrison Smith is nicknamed the Hitman, but the NFL keeps hitting his wallet for some of his biggest shots.

After Sunday’s 31-28 loss to the Cowboys, when Smith was penalized a third time in the past seven games for either unnecessary roughness or lowering the helmet to initiate contact, no other NFL defensive back has as many of those penalties than the Vikings’ All-Pro safety.

Two others, Seattle’s Quandre Diggs and Jacksonville’s Josh Jones, have also been ejected, as Smith was for a penalized hit that knocked out Texans tight end Jordan Akins in Week 4.

All three flagged hits involved Smith leveling a player catching a pass over the middle, but the hit Sunday didn’t include much helmet-to-helmet contact.

Smith pleaded his case to officials between snaps, but kept it simple a few days later.

“Not this scenario, but different ones. Just have to keep trying to lower my target, because getting a penalty every other week or whatever is not helping us win,” said Smith, who didn’t practice Wednesday because of a neck injury.

He was fined $15,000 on top of his ejection last month in Houston, but said he wasn’t fined for a Week 9 penalty against the Lions.

“We’ll see Friday if I got fined for this one,” Smith said. “The fines are obviously a lot of money and everything, but the penalties are not great.”

Vikings coaches have defended Smith, with Mike Zimmer saying Sunday that the penalized hit on Cowboys receiver CeeDee Lamb “was clean” because Smith planted his right shoulder into Lamb’s chest. Smith said he’ll just have to keep trying to hit lower.

“I’m on the taller end of safety types, so just being a little taller guy, I don’t know, that might factor into it,” Smith said. “Again, just really have to force myself to get lower and lower.”

Three starters sidelined

Right guard Ezra Cleveland remained sidelined at Wednesday’s practice because of an ankle injury sustained Nov. 16 in Chicago. And while guard Dru Samia was activated from the COVID-19 reserve list after a 10-day quarantine because of a positive test, Brett Jones appears in line for another start.

Jones did an “outstanding job” against the Cowboys, according to quarterback Kirk Cousins.

“[Jones] has quietly in the background been doing a great job for us for two and a half years,” Cousins said. “Every single day on the scout team, as a reserve coming in at center or guard, so no surprise there. Just proud of the way he played. We’re going to need him to keep it up.”

Samia (not injury related) and defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo (concussion/shoulder) also did not practice. Tight end Irv Smith Jr (groin/back) was listed as limited.

Janocko still quarantined

Receivers coach Andrew Janocko did not attend Sunday’s game against the Cowboys and remained away from the team during Wednesday’s practice. When asked about Janocko and juggling coaching duties, Zimmer said assistant coaches “have not been sick,” allowing work to continue remotely while they’re quarantined for COVID-related reasons.

“It’s happened a couple of times,” Zimmer said. “It adds to other guys’ duties that they have to do, responsibilities. Fortunately, the ones that have missed have not been sick, so they’re able to do a lot of things virtually still. If these guys got really ill and sick and couldn’t do things, then obviously it would make it more difficult. But we have a plan in place if I get [coronavirus] or whoever gets it.”

Still on top

Panthers kicker Joey Slye has the range to attempt a field goal from midfield at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday, but Vikings kicker Dan Bailey is just glad Slye didn’t make that 67-yard attempt last week against the Lions. Slye had the distance, but was wide right on the attempt, keeping Bailey’s teammate, punter Britton Colquitt, in place as the holder of the longest field goal in NFL history, a 64-yard kick by Matt Prater for Denver in 2013.

“For sake of the old pal Britton,” Bailey said, “I’m kind of glad it didn’t go in, so he can keep his spot in the Hall of Fame for a little bit longer.”