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Monday Morning Mailbag: Fan Anger Over Smith's Ejection; An Update on Hunter

Do you have a comment or question? Send it to the Mailbag! Every Monday we'll post several comments and/or questions as part of the Monday Morning Mailbag. Although we can't post every comment or question, we will reply to every question submitted.

Click here to submit a comment or question to the Mailbag. Remember to include your name and town on the email. The questions below have been edited for clarity.

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View game action images as the Minnesota Vikings take on the Houston Texans in Week 4.

Eric, I was aghast and appalled with Harrison Smith being ejected. To deem the hit as "flagrant," was absolute bovine scatology! No doubt we all watched the replays of the hit, and I saw a tough football play. Considering the state of the Vikings defense, that call by the officials almost gave the game to the Texans. Over the years there have been some cheap shot players in the NFL, but Harrison Smith is not one of them. The NFL owes Harrison and the Vikings an apology. Just how I saw it.

— John Stephens in St. Albert

How important is Smith? I say real important, as the defense gave up a little over 100 yards before his departure halfway through the second quarter. Then the Texans go off for like 250 yards in the second half. P.S. — I think it was a bad call also.

— Toby Smart

We'll start with a pair of questions and comment on a notable moment in Sunday's game that had Vikings fans — and Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer — heated about the outcome.

Yes, Harrison Smith was ejected late in the second quarter for a hit on Texans tight end Jordan Akins. Officials threw a flag for a personal foul, but according to Zimmer, the decision to disqualify him came from the league office in New York.

And here is what Zimmer said after the game about the incident:

"I love Harrison Smith like he's my son, first of all," Zimmer said. "My issue has always been, the quarterback's gonna throw the ball in the middle of the field and there's no repercussions whatsoever.

"Harrison is not a dirty player, he's never been a dirty player, and I feel like he tried to get his shoulder in there. They told me that the league office ejected him. If they want to give us a penalty, fine, give us a penalty, but don't eject guys," Zimmer added. "This guy's one of the best players in the NFL and one of the best people in the NFL. He's not a dirty player, so that's kind of what irritated me, I guess."

Do I think there was malicious intent by Smith? Of course not. While I don't disagree with the flag thrown, the ejection was a little extreme to me.

And Zimmer is right that Smith isn't a dirty player. He's had just four accepted penalties in the past two seasons, and three were because of defensive holding.

As for Smith's absence, it was clear the Texans targeted that spot when he went out and George Iloka came in the game.

Zimmer said postgame that Iloka actually spent the week preparing to be the backup nickel cornerback and even got a few snaps there when Cameron Dantzler left for a handful of plays in the first quarter.

Iloka may have looked a little rusty at safety, but that's a tough position to be thrown into on the fly.

And with all of that said, let's hope Smith doesn't get any extra punishment from the league heading into Week 5. His two-quarter absence was tough enough for the Vikings to overcome, and they will need Smith's steady presence next week in Seattle against Russell Wilson.

Hey Eric. I know it's a small sample size, but it looks like Justin Jefferson is going to be a star and certainly has emerged as the second weapon at WR behind Adam Thielen. Even when Stefon Diggs was here, it seemed like we were always debating who the third receiving option would or should be. Who do you think has a chance to be that guy as this season moves forward? Skol!

— Marshall in Minnetonka, Minnesota

Thanks for the question, Marshall. You are correct that there has been plenty of chatter in recent seasons about who the third pass-catching option has been behind the top two wide receivers, whether it was Thielen and Diggs in recent years, or Thielen and Jefferson now.

I'd argue that the No. 3 option has been either Kyle Rudolph or Dalvin Cook. If you look back at the 2019 season, it was actually Cook who was second on the team in receptions with 53, while Rudolph was third with 39.

With Thielen fully healthy through four games, and the emergence of Jefferson in the past two games, the Vikings No. 3 wide receiver is either Bisi Johnson, who started in Weeks 1-2, or Chad Beebe, depending on what the offensive play call is. Beebe was inactive in Weeks 1-2, and Tajaé Sharpe was active but used sparingly. Sharpe was inactive in Week 3 and ruled out Sunday because of an illness.

And while there is no clear-cut No. 3 wide receiver at this point, the Vikings offense isn't set up to have an abundance of wide receivers with 50-plus catches. Minnesota wants to run the ball and go heavy with tight ends and two-wide receiver sets, which limits the reception totals for most of the depth players.

If the offense plays as it did Sunday — with 410 yards and 31 points — that formula works just fine.


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The Vikings defense squeaked one out against the Texans! I thought the ejection against Harrison Smith was very ticky-tacky. But my question is, where is Danielle Hunter, and what is his status? The Vikings could really use him, and I thought he was supposed to be back after 3 weeks. Can you let us know what is going on with him (and Pat Elflein)? Thanks!

— Tom from Dallas

Hunter is still on Injured Reserve, where he has been since the Wednesday before Week 1 against the Packers. Yes, the minimum limit this year for a player to spend on Injured Reserve is three weeks, meaning Hunter was eligible to return in Week 4.

But he has not practiced since early August with an injury that Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer has only referred to as "a tweak" in recent weeks. Zimmer did shed some light on Hunter's status on Friday, as he said the star defensive end was in New York to get a second opinion on that unspecified injury.

Perhaps we'll learn more this week if Hunter returns to the Twin Cities and partakes in practice, or at least rehabs on a side field.

As for Elflein, he is also on Injured Reserve at the moment and is eligible to return for Week 5 against the Seahawks. We'll likely learn more about his status this week. Dru Samia has now started three games at right guard in his place.