EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The old adage that football starts up front, with the big guys on the offensive and defensive line, has been true in both Vikings games of this modern NFL season.
Right guard Mike Harris, in just his second start at the position, was involved in two important plays early that boosted Minnesota's hot opening against Detroit.
Harris provided a key block to allow Teddy Bridgewater to find Jarius Wright for a gain of 17 on third-and-8. He followed by widening a hole for Adrian Peterson's 25-yard run, during which the running back broke Hall of Fame receiver Cris Carter's franchise record for combined net yards (12,410).
Peterson had 192 (134 on 29 rushes and 58 on two receptions) in his first game at home since Dec. 1, 2013 to push his career total to 12,577. It was quite the site for Harris, who was claimed off waivers from the Chargers just before the 2014 season began.
"Man, awesome, seeing one of the best running backs ever running past you and making blocks for the guy," Harris said. "It was just a magical thing to see. I'm proud of the line, I'm proud of everybody on offense. We really stepped up. We had a little adversity last week, but I feel like we played great."
Harris said he thought the offensive line played with an attitude that's needed against the Lions, a fierceness Head Coach Mike Zimmer wanted it to find and wants it to continue Sunday against the Chargers, the team for which the 2012 undrafted free agent started nine of 15 games played as a rookie.
"Coach told us to come into the locker room and have that attitude that we were going to throw the force on them and be the most physical, and I feel like we did a great job with that," Harris said after the Detroit game.
Like most o-linemen, Harris is pretty low-key. He is one of five former UCLA players on the Vikings roster, and they all refer to him as his nickname, "Mizzle."
Originating from "Snoop Dogg slang," the nickname came from his high school coach and continued on campus, near his hometown of Duarte, California, and beyond.
"Everybody, even other teams know me by just that name, and my former team, the Chargers know me as that nickname as well. It just kind of caught on," Harris said. "I haven't really tried (to have teammates call me that) here. It's usually just the UCLA guys. They know me, they call me that, all four of them, so it's kind of alive now. It's cool, but eventually I think it will probably spread."
Vikings Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner coached Harris in San Diego in 2012, which helped prompted the Vikings to look at Harris when he became available last fall. They signed him as a reserve tackle, but a crazy sequence at Buffalo with two injuries on the interior of the offensive line thrust Harris into guard. He enjoyed playing there, but returned to the role of backup tackle. He started the final five games of the season at right tackle after Phil Loadholt suffered a torn pec.
This offseason coaches decided to have Harris work at right guard and place rookie T.J. Clemmings as the backup right tackle. A season-ending injury that Loadholt suffered early in the preseason led to Clemmings promotion.
Turner said Harris played well for the Vikings last season and has done well with the transition this year.
"Because he's at a new position, he still has a lot of work to do and we have a lot of work to do on the offensive line," Turner said before the season. "The communication and all of that is really good. I think they're two young players in terms of Mike being new at the position and T.J. being a young player. [Offensive line coach] Jeff [Davidson] does a great job with them and breaking things down and teaching them what they need to get done."
In addition to former teammates, several people close to Harris are traveling from California for the game. Harris will go from doing his best to protect "the heart and soul of the team," Philp Rivers, to wanting to see current teammates go after the Chargers longtime QB.
"I know Philip and the competitive side he's going to have," Harris said. "He's going to be ready for that game, but I know our coach will have a good scheme for him and it's going to be a good matchup."
Zimmer said Rivers' ability to change the offense's tempo, throw the ball quickly and maintain accuracy under pressure are attributes that challenge opponents.
"They've got a lot of crossing routes, he gets the ball out quickly, the tempo that they go out at," Zimmer said. "Sometimes they change up, sometimes they'll go really slow, sometimes they'll go fast, so it's hard to get into a rhythm defensively sometimes. But he's a great competitor. He'll sit in there and throw. We've hit him in the past, there's been times where he's made some fantastic throws under duress and he's very smart. He's really, really smart. We're going to have to do a good job against him."
Show starter: The Vikings also added to their offensive line this season by signing a player who spent training camp with the Chargers when they traded for Jeremiah Sirles.
Zimmer said the Vikings have been practicing the versatile Sirles at three positions. He had worked up and down the line with San Diego after joining the Chargers in 2014 as an undrafted rookie. Sirles was asked about Rivers this week and said the quarterback is "where the show starts and ends for them."
With his 255th touchdown pass last week, Rivers broke the franchise record of Hall of Famer Dan Fouts, who will be the color analyst for CBS during Sunday's game. Rivers added another one against Cincinnati, despite a unique throwing motion.
Sirles said he heard Rivers explain that he began throwing high school sized footballs at an early age, and the only way he could was to sling them.
"It gets where it needs to go most of the time," Sirles said of Rivers, who has completed 81.2 percent of passes this season.
Practicing patience: Vikings rookie receiver Stefon Diggs was quite active during the preseason as a receiver and return specialist but he's been inactive so far this season. All teams are limited to having 46 players out of their 53-man roster up on game days.
Zimmer said the declaration of Diggs as an inactive isn't a knock on the fifth-round pick.
"We like him a lot as a player. We can have 46 on game day, that's the issue and some guys are – not more valuable, but we use them more on those special teams things," Zimmer said. "He'll get an opportunity to play this year. I would anticipate and I think he'll do good when he does."
Psych 101: Zimmer emphasized to players this week that a win isn't a reason to lose focus on goals. He told the media that it was a good week to be demanding.
How'd he do?
"I was probably fairly demanding Wednesday, but they responded well," Zimmer said. "They came out and they practiced good today, yesterday. I'm not that good of a psychologist to when they're not doing good tell them that they're doing good. I'm going to make sure that they understand the task at hand and the things we have to do, the way we have to work and what my expectations are. I'm not going to be a jerk just to be a jerk."
Injuries update:Brandon Fusco fully participated Friday after being limited Thursday and not participating Wednesday. He is listed as questionable for Sunday's game. The only other Vikings player on the injury report is Shamar Stephen (knee), who fully participated and is listed as probable.
For the Chargers, S Jahleel Addae (ankle), WR/KR Jacoby Jones (ankle), G Johnnie Troutman (forearm) and LB Tourek Williams (foot) did not participate any day this week and have been ruled out. G/T D.J. Fluker (ankle), TE Ladarius Green (concussion) and CB Jason Verrett (foot) were listed as limited participants and are questionable for the game. LB Kyle Emanuel (shoulder), G/T Chris Hairston (knee) and C Chris Watt (groin) fully participated and are probable.