EAGAN, Minn. – Justin Jefferson can't wait to get back on the field for a game.
He also is making sure he does things right.
"I don't wanna go out there 80, 90 percent and have the chance of hurting it again," Jefferson said Thursday. "It's just day to day, and when that time comes, I'll definitely be ready to step out on that field."
Jefferson returned to practice Wednesday for the first time since suffering a hamstring injury against the Chiefs in Week 5. That return effectively activated the 21-day window in which Minnesota can decide to elevate him from Injured Reserve to the 53-man roster.
This marks the first time in college or the pros in which Jefferson has missed significant time due to injury.
"It sucks. It sucks not being able to play, especially when most of my career [I've been] healthy and [haven't missed] too many games," he said. "It definitely sucks, but it's a process. It happens, and the best you can do is just try to recover and get out there as fast as possible.
"It's not something I'm used to," Jefferson later added. "But it makes me want to be back out on that field even more. Being out there with my teammates who fight every single week."
Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell told media members Wednesday it seemed "aggressive" to expect Jefferson to play in Sunday's game against the Saints, and Jefferson shared similar sentiments. He refrained from putting an exact date on when he'll be a full go.
"A hamstring is a difficult injury, just because it lingers. And it [acts up] time to time if you don't put the right treatment into it," he said. "The guys and the rest of the coaching staff in this building know my worth on the field, and they want me 100 percent – as I do, as well."
Jefferson tipped his cap to Vikings Director of Rehabilitation Matt Duhamel, Vice President of Player Health and Performance Tyler Williams, and Head Athletic Trainer Uriah Myrie for the recovery and rehab regimen they've worked him through.
"Everyone on that training staff has been doing a phenomenal job with me. Making sure I'm feeling good, making sure I'm getting the work that I need done and the rehab and treatment that I need," Jefferson said. "It's not just me that's doing all the work. There's definitely a lot of effort from around this whole building."
Jefferson has made it a point to be around the building as much as possible, continuing to spend time with his teammates and attending every team and position group meeting.
He also has been animated and vocal on the sideline during games, celebrating big plays and offering any insight and perspective he's able.
Tight end T.J. Hockenson, who has caught 30 passes for 293 yards and a touchdown in the past four weeks, said teammates have felt and appreciated Jefferson's engagement with the team.
"He's one of the best people I've been around and to have him in the locker room throughout these last four weeks has been incredible," Hockenson said. "He hasn't changed as a person or player or anything. He's been like this the whole time, and that's what you need from … your captain. He's been excited for us as players. You see him on the sideline, and when we make plays, he's going crazy.
"He's here on a Wednesday, out at a walk-through. He's in meetings. He's just hanging out. He's there for all of us, and I think that's just huge," Hockenson added. "He's at the peak of his career, one of the best players in the league, and he doesn't need to be here if he doesn't want to be, but that shows the character that he is and that he has. He's been here every step of the way. He's just such a great dude, as well as a great player."
Though it's undetermined which game he'll return for, one thing is certain: Jefferson's sideline support will continue in the meantime.
"That's just who I am. I love the game of football. I love being around football, especially if I'm not able to play. Just being there as a leader, as a captain of the team, and just having that support system on the sideline – giving the guys encouragement and continuing to battle," he said. "I know how hard it is in that type of situation, in the game, in the moment, so as much as I can, I want to give them that encouragement, give them that extra word before they go out there and ball out.
"I'm always going to be on the sideline supporting my teammates as best as I can, and I'm just happy to be a part of this organization with so many people helping me out – on and off the field," Jefferson emphasized. "I'm just happy to be that leader on the team. You can't say I'm just sitting at home [worrying] about getting back. I want to be there supporting my teammates and being there hands-on."
Though some media members had speculated Jefferson may sit out for the remainder of the season, he assured that never was a consideration.
It's truly been just the opposite.
"That's a no-brainer," he said of wanting to come back as soon as possible. "I'm always going to want to play football, whether we didn't win a game or if we'd won every single game this season.
"I love the game of football. I always say I want to be a Hall of Famer, so I can't just sit out missing games for the fun of it or just because we're not doing well," Jefferson added. "I know I have a big role on this team, and I know every chance I get to be on that field, I want to make the most of those opportunities."