EAGAN, Minn. — With COVID-19 cases on the rise on the Vikings (and across the NFL and the country), Mike Zimmer is back to anxiously waiting for his morning update on his phone.
Minnesota has put three players — Alexander Mattison, Dede Westbrook and Dan Chisena — from its 53-man roster on the Reserve/COVID-19 list over the past two days.
A trio of others — A.J. Rose, Jr., Kyle Hinton and Trishton Jackson — were placed on the Practice Squad Reserve/COVID-19 list.
Such is life in the league, Zimmer said. But the Vikings head coach also noted that he's concerned that his team (and others) are dealing with something more serious that hasn't been seen before.
"I think it's more just one of the obstacles," Zimmer said Tuesday. "I know when I came in today, yesterday, I got texts that 'this guy' is positive … today we had some positives.
"You know, so it's trying to figure out who's up next and where we go from here. But yeah, I mean, every single morning I'm going to get some kind of text and update," Zimmer added. "It seems to be worse right now, maybe worse than it was last year at any point in the season to me, but I don't know."
Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Bears.
Zimmer spoke to Twin Cities media members for nearly 15 minutes Tuesday, with the majority of the time spent on the recent roster moves and how the team could potentially handle those for Week 15's Monday night tilt against the Bears in Chicago.
The Vikings are among multiple teams currently in the league's intensive protocols, which means players, coaches and staff members (Tier 1 and 2) are required to test daily regardless of vaccination status. Additionally, team and position-group meetings have to be held either virtually or in a large open space with ample room.
Zimmer said these are the same guidelines all teams had to follow in the days following Thanksgiving.
"They did it after Thanksgiving. Like the week after Thanksgiving, everybody in the league had to do it," Zimmer added. "I think the other teams that have been in it have had to do the same thing. I think there's, somebody told me, seven teams that are in it right now."
With Westbrook potentially out, that could mean fifth-round rookie Ihmir Smith-Marsette gets the nod at punt returner and, possibly, the third wide receiver, depending on the status of Adam Thielen's sprained ankle.
"Yeah, well, Smith-Marsette is a guy that he's been doing a nice job all year, so he may have an opportunity here this week," Zimmer said. "We'll just see here as the week goes on. But that's why we have so many guys on the practice squad, so they get ready to come up if they have to play."
View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of Jan. 5, 2022.
Westbrook has 22 punt returns for 183 yards (8.3 yards per return) with a long of 45 yards. He also has nine receptions for 64 yards on offense as a depth receiver
And with Mattison out and Rose potentially not being available for depth, that could mean more playing time for rookie Kene Nwangwu and the recently added Wayne Gallman behind Dalvin Cook.
"Well, he's a guy we liked coming out of college. He's had quite a few carries in the league, so we're glad that we have him," Zimmer said of Gallman. "Kene's a guy that just continues to get more reps in practice every day, and hopefully he'll go out there and do some good things."
As Zimmer alluded to above, the Vikings aren't the only team dealing with multiple players on various Reserve/COVID-19 lists right now.
Chicago placed nose tackle Eddie Goldman, cornerback Artie Burns, outside linebacker Sam Kamara, tackle Elijah Wilkinson and defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. on the list in recent days.
Minnesota (6-7) will meet Chicago (4-9) in prime time at Soldier Field for the fourth time in five seasons, with three of them coming on Monday Night Football.
The Vikings currently sit in the No. 8 seed in the NFC, just one spot out of a playoff berth, and are among five NFC teams at 6-7.
Zimmer said his team will be prepared no matter who is — or isn't — on the field.
"We have to go out and fight good every week," Zimmer said. "We have to be detailed with the things that we're doing.
"Just talking to the players about these next four games, how important they are, and trying to get on a roll here," Zimmer added.