EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings late-season bye week has been followed by one extra day of preparation before their game against the Seahawks in Seattle on Monday Night Football.
That means one more day of monitoring a pesky hamstring injury before determining Adam Thielen's status.
The All-Pro receiver first injured his hamstring in Week 7 at Detroit while making an incredible touchdown catch.
He tried to return to action in Week 9 but had to leave the game early.
He hasn't donned his game-day jersey and pads since.
"It's getting there. Everything has gone according to plan this week," Thielen said. "I'm really taking it one day at a time. Hamstrings are tricky, as I've found out, but everything has gone as planned this week so far. Have another good day tomorrow, and see how it goes."
Thielen was listed as a limited participant on Friday. Minnesota will have another practice Saturday and announce any players' designations on the final injury report. The team is scheduled to fly to the Pacific Northwest on Sunday.
Asked if he would play if his hamstring is not 100 percent, Thielen said "probably not."
"Just because I know that if you're not 100 percent, you're going to come out five plays into the game anyways," Thielen said. "That's probably the biggest difference of a hamstring from a different injury, is you can play through pain with other injuries, but as I found out quickly, with a hamstring, if you feel any pain, eventually it's just not going to work, so that's kind of the plan right now."
Thielen, who had never missed a game since appearing in 2014 primarily on special teams and as a reserve receiver, said he's managed the frustration of not playing, which has been offset by other younger players filling the void.
"It's frustrating as a competitor. You want to play and help your team win, but at the same time, I'm a little older now, so I understand that that's just part of the deal," Thielen said. "For me to be upset or frustrated and show my teammates that, there's just no point in that. I just try to control what I can control, do whatever I can to help this team and try to get back as fast as possible, but at the same time, be smart so it doesn't linger and I don't have another setback."
Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski and quarterback Kirk Cousins have turned to experienced players like Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph while mixing in younger players like rookies Bisi Johnson and Irv Smith, Jr., and getting contributions in the passing game from running backs.
"I think all of our guys do a nice job of coming in here and [being] ready to contribute in any way, shape or form," Stefanski said. "I think you've seen some young guys step up, and we've asked a lot of them. A guy of Adam's caliber, if you add him to the mix, is certainly somebody that we're excited about what he can do. We'll see where it goes over the next couple of days, but it's no different from a preparation standpoint for our young players, our backups that have to be ready to roll in any case."
Rudolph, the longest-tenured Viking on offense, has caught 20 passes for 179 yards and five touchdowns on 24 targets since Week 7 and enjoyed seeing others shine with their moments.
"I think the experience that a lot of these young guys have gotten over the last four to five weeks with Adam being down will only help us," Rudolph said. "Then, anytime you get a multiple-time Pro Bowler and one of the best receivers in the game back, that doesn't hurt either."
Added Cousins: "You'd like to think it gives you more versatility and experience to lean on if we have Adam back and know that there are a few others that are battle-tested more than they would have been. I think it says a lot about our coaches, too. I think that's a great job by them to say, 'We're missing so-and-so. How do we still move the football? How do we get players in a position to be successful?' I think coaches and players have done a good job of that, and Monday night will be no different, whether we have Adam or not."
Prepping for LBs
Cousins this week mentioned Seattle's linebackers – Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright and Mychal Kendricks, the older brother of Vikings LB Eric Kendricks — as players that he has a "ton of respect for."
The Seahawks like to keep the three on the field instead of subbing in an extra defensive back when a team is in 11 personnel with three wide receivers.
Minnesota has gone big with extra tight ends, which has sometimes prompted opponents to opt for heavier personnel only to have the Vikings execute passes.
The Vikings, however, also have been effective at running the ball and made it a core of their identity this season.
"We talked about it in May, June, August, that we're going to put big people out there and try to run the football," Rudolph said. "They want to stay big as well, so it will be something we do well against something that they do well in prime time in December. You can't ask for much more than that."
As for what makes Seattle's linebackers so good, Rudolph said, "You're looking at three guys that have had a lot of experience in this league, and two of them have played together in that system for eight years. A lot of continuity in that group, a lot of experience and also a lot of talent."
Dalvin Cook was asked specifically about Wagner this week and said the linebacker's instincts are an x-factor.
"A smart player. He can move around a lot, sideline to sideline," Cook said. "A great overall linebacker, so one of the best in the league. You've gotta be aware of where he's at on every play."
Avoiding a block
Speaking of Wagner, as you may remember, he pushed himself off the shoulders of teammates and cleared the line to block a 47-yard field goal by Dan Bailey last year.
Special Teams Coordinator Marwan Maalouf wasn't with Minnesota last year but is more than aware of the threat posed by Seattle's unit.
"We talked to our guys this morning in our meeting about what to expect," Maalouf said. "It's really, 'Expect everything. Everything and anything.' There are still jumpers every single week in the NFL. I think it is something that we have to identify before the play starts and just communicate and make sure everybody is on the same page and recognize it. I think recognition is the key."
The NFL made it against the rules to use leverage by pushing off anyone. Officials initially threw a flag on the play but picked it up.
"You really can't create leverage by pushing off anyone," Maalouf said when asked for an explanation of the rule. "[If] you graze somebody, that is a different deal and basically how you start.
"You have to be on the line of scrimmage, you have to be legal, you have to be outside of the framework of the center if you are going to jump through that gap," Maalouf said. "With these guys, they jumped a different gap last year. We have to find who that guy is going to be and identify him. It's not a given he is going be in the A-gap. It could be any gap. We have to be ready for that."