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Injuries to Test Vikings Depth for Monday Night Football

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. –With Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo out for Monday's division matchup against the Bears in Chicago, Minnesota must fill the back end of its defense.

Sendejo was injured while returning a first-quarter interception in last week's game against the Eagles. In his place, rookie Jayron Kearse was called up. Kearse recorded six tackles (one solo) in his first significant game action on defense, although he has contributed to Minnesota's special teams.

"It helped me tremendously with confidence, knowing how a regular-season game would be," Kearse said. "It helped me if I get that opportunity again."

With Sendejo sidelined this week, Kearse and/or Anthony Harris will get an opportunity.

Harrison Smith, said it was helpful for Kearse to play so many snaps (52 of Minnesota's 58 on defense) at Philadelphia.

"He got a lot of reps. A lot of the things are base plays that we do, and just getting that game speed and those game reps is big," Smith said. "It settles you down, so I think that will help us going forward with him and should make him more comfortable to be the playmaker that we know he is."

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer has played a number of safeties in during his two-plus seasons at the helm, and they generally have produced similar results.

"I think the system is fairly easy and the things that we ask them to do," Zimmer told Twin Cities media members Saturday. "Most of the time it's interchangeable. One guy can play either position, so that allows multiple guys to play."

Kearse, a seventh-round pick, played a considerable amount during Minnesota's preseason, recording two interceptions and three pass breakups.

Eliminate the negative plays

The Vikings suffered four run plays that didn't gain yards and two run plays that lost yardage last week in Philadelphia. The six combined runs for minus-10 yards (not counting a kneel-down by Sam Bradford before the half) sandbagged a 29-yard run by Matt Asiata and his season-high of 4.6 yards per carry against the Eagles.

For the season, the Vikings have had 23 run plays that have lost a combined 54 yards (not counting kneel-downs in the Victory formation), and Zimmer would like to eliminate the zero- or minus-yardage plays.

The Vikings, already without Adrian Peterson since Week 2, will be without leading rusher Jerick McKinnon (68 carries, 217 yards) on Monday.

Ronnie Hillman, who was tackled for a loss of 6 on his only rush attempt against the Eagles last week, Asiata and fullback Zach Line are the Vikings other options in the backfield. They will try to improve on a rush average of 2.6 yards per carry.

"We'll just keep trying to do better," Zimmer said.

The Vikings have remained committed to the run game, attempting 171 rushes, which is 40 more than opponents have attempted against Minnesota this season.

Will punt returners return?

The folks in the Vikings locker room obviously haven't undersold the value of Marcus Sherels, who has a franchise-record five punt return touchdowns, including two this season.

What might have been a little understated, however, is Sherels' availability in each of the past six seasons. Sherels suffered a wrist injury last week and is questionable, creating a situation in which some player not named Sherels might field and return a punt for the first time in a game since 2010.

Cordarrelle Patterson had one fair catch of a punt in 2013. Patterson also received credit for nine yards in Week 1 this season after a reverse, but that play was started with Sherels fielding the punt. Other than that, it's been all-Sherels, all the time.

Troy Stoudermire, who is no longer on the team, was the only other player to return a punt during the 2016 preseason. He had six returns for 36 yards.

In the 2015 preseason, the Vikings had Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen join Sherels in returning punts. Diggs returned 10 a total of 217 yards, Sherels returned six for 60 yards and Thielen returned three for 36 yards.

Bears leading punt returner Eddie Royal (13 returns, 153 yards) is doubtful for Monday. Bryce Callahan and Cre'Von LeBlanc each have a fair catch and no punt returns this season. Neither had an attempt of the Bears in the preseason.

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