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Irv Smith, Jr., Catching Again, Keeping Eyes on Week 1 Return Goal

EAGAN, Minn. – Irv Smith, Jr., is back on the field catching footballs.

The tight end suffered a thumb injury early in training camp and underwent surgery Aug. 2. He was entirely sidelined until Aug. 22, when he returned in a jog-through capacity but didn't do any catching.

Smith has made another big step toward playing in the Vikings Week 1 game against the Packers.

"That's the plan," Smith told Twin Cities media members following Wednesday's practice. "We've been working at it, and I'm still working at it every day."

Smith noted he's been "out here a couple days" prior to Wednesday's session open to media.

"They've been working me in more. Coach K.O. (Kevin O'Connell), he's been working me in more … getting me back in the offense," he said.

View the best photos of Vikings TE Irv Smith Jr. from the 2020 season.

Vikings receiver K.J. Osborn is thankful to see Smith back at nearly full capacity.

"He's been doing good. He's been coming out here, catching balls still – it's a testament to his toughness," Osborn said. "We're just super happy to have him back on the grass."

Because he's been out a few weeks, Smith has put an emphasis on conditioning and making sure he's in football shape.

"It feels good, just getting back in the groove of things," Smith said. "It's a little different being back on the field and running around training and stuff, so it was good that I'm able to get out here, get some work in, get on the same page as Kirk [Cousins] and show my offensive teammates what we can do."

After Tuesday's roster cuts, Smith is one of three tight ends on Minnesota’s 53-man roster, joining Ben Ellefson and Johnny Mundt. The Vikings waived Zach Davidson and Johnny Muse, then re-signed Muse to the practice squad Wednesday.

View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of Jan. 14, 2023.

Smith said it was tough being unable to join his teammates at practice but that he continued to support the group in any way he could.

"I just try to be a leader for the guys as much as I can, on and off the field," he said. "And when I get back on the field, I'm going to give everything I've got."

When Smith does return to game action – hopefully against Green Bay – he doesn't plan to wear any type of brace or reinforcement on his thumb.

"My plan is to be full-go without any support or anything out there, so I can be at my best," Smith said.

It's never ideal to miss time, but Smith is grateful to have gotten the surgery and rehab largely out of the way before the regular season, and he believes he can pick up right where he left off.

"At the end of the day, you've got to be confident in yourself and your abilities and the work that's been put in through this time," Smith said. "We've been working since OTAs, training camp and now leading into the season.

"My coaches are confident in me, I'm confident in myself, [my teammates] are, so that's all I can ask for," he added. "I'm gonna put in the work so we'll be ready for Week 1."