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Vikings Return to Pads Adds to Evaluation of Offensive Linemen

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Vikings donned pads for the first time in 10 days for Wednesday's practice as Minnesota continued preparing for this weekend's trip to Philadelphia.

The newest Viking, tackle Jake Long, had a special request, hoping that Everson Griffen and others would not take it easy on him. Long was signed during the Vikings bye week and is looking forward to practicing against a stout Vikings defensive line.

"When you can go up against some of the best pass rushers and d-line every single day in practice, that makes you better as a line, as an individual," Long said. "So when you go out there against great players on the opposite team, you know you can handle it."

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said he is still evaluating Long, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2008 NFL Draft, and he expected padded practice to help.

"Expectations can change quickly in one way or the other," Zimmer said. "I'm trying to go by what I see and go from there." 

Zimmer said the Vikings started the week with T.J. Clemmings at left tackle, where he stepped in for Matt Kalil in Week 3, and Jeremiah Sirles at right tackle. Sirles replaced Andre Smith during the Giants game and started against the Texans in Week 5.

The Vikings (5-0) are continuing to expect the unexpected. Case in point, Brandon Fusco suffered a concussion early against Houston and was replaced by Zac Kerin. With the Vikings shorthanded at tight end in the lead-up to that game, Kerin had practiced during the week as a blocking tight end. That changed when Fusco went down, prompting the first action in a regular-season game for Nick Easton.

"It's next man up, and we've done a nice job," Sirles said. "Zac really did come in and play really well, and Nick (Easton) came in as the heavy tight end and had a nice game. Everyone prepares like they're going to be a starter, and I think that's shown as guys have kind of gotten thrown in there."

Sirles' first significant action as a Viking occurred when he relieved Alex Boone at left guard at Carolina in Week 3.

Center is the only position where the Vikings haven't had to fill a void because of injury this season, a stark contrast to the previous season in which Minnesota was the only team in the NFL to start the same five players all season.

"It's always nice to play next to the same guys," Berger said. "But at the same time, that's kind of what we do as an offensive line, roll guys in and out.

"We've been doing that since the beginning of camp, and you kind of get comfortable playing next to whoever is next to you."

Formidable fronts

One thing is certain, the Vikings offensive linemen are getting solid reps in practice from members of one of the NFL's most formidable defensive lines.

The Vikings are tied for third in the NFL with 19 sacks, including 17 by defensive linemen (89.5 percent). Defensive ends Griffen, Brian Robison and Danielle Hunter each have 4.0 sacks, followed by defensive tackles Linval Joseph (3.0) and Tom Johnson (2.0).

Philadelphia has installed a 4-3 front under new head coach Doug Pederson and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz after running a 3-4 for three seasons under Chip Kelly and Bill Davis.

The Eagles defensive line has accounted for an even greater percentage of Philadelphia's 13 sacks, recording 12 (92.3 percent). Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox leads the way with 4.0, followed by defensive end Brandon Graham (3.0). 

"I think it's a lot like what Coach Zimmer has there in Minnesota," Pederson said. "We pride ourselves on the defensive line, just coming off the ball, attack style and aggressive and letting your linebackers flow, read and react. Jim's philosophy and the reason I hired him is that aggressive style is in his nature. You look on paper, and he's not a big blitzer, he'll bring pressure when he has to, but just get after guys with four rushers.

"Early in the season we've had success doing that, and we've got to get back to that," Pederson said. "For whatever reason, it's lacked in the last couple of ball games. These guys are veteran guys, and Fletcher can be a dominant player. We've got to get back to that aggressive nature. That's kind of where it always starts, the defensive line."

After recording at least three sacks in each of their first five games, Philadelphia did not record one last week in a loss at Washington.

Sirles said the Eagles are "very talented up front" and deep like the Vikings.

"They've got a lot of guys who can do a lot of different things," Sirles said. "They're strong and can rush the passer so we have a really good test for us."

Vikings have improved in road games

With the Vikings set to play three of their next four games on the road, players and coaches are about to become well acquainted with their luggage.

But playing in an opponent's stadium isn't the worst thing in the world for the Vikings, who have steadily improved their road record since Head Coach Mike Zimmer took over in 2015.

Minnesota was just 2-6 in Zimmer's first season but improved to 5-3 in 2015, which included a Week 17 win at Lambeau Field that clinched the NFC North for the Vikings.

The Vikings have road wins over Tennessee and Carolina this season, and will face Philadelphia, Chicago and Washington away from the friendly confines of U.S. Bank Stadium in three of the next four weeks.

Minnesota limited the Titans to 16 points and the Panthers to just 10.

Minnesota linebacker Anthony Barr said the Vikings are prepared to play anywhere and everywhere.

"I think it's more difficult for the offense on the road," Barr said. "For us, I don't think we care where we play.

"(It could be in) a parking lot; it don't matter," he added. "It's just about doing our job and doing it the right way and the better team always wins. Hopefully we'll keep it going."

View images from the Wednesday, Oct. 19 practice at Winter Park.

Injury reports

The first injury report of the week has been published.

For the Vikings: MyCole Pruitt (knee/ankle) and Sharrif Floyd (knee) did not participate. Stefon Diggs (groin), Jarius Wright (ankle), Jeremiah Sirles (knee) and Laquon Treadwell (thumb) were limited. Brandon Fusco (concussion), Alex Boone (knee) and Anthony Barr (ankle) fully participated.

For the Eagles: CB Ron Brooks (calf), C Jason Kelce (foot), DT Bennie Logan (groin) and DE Marcus Smith (groin) did not participate. G Allen Barbre (ankle), LB Mychal Kendricks (ribs) and Jordan Matthews (knee) were limited. CB Leodis McKelvin (hamstring) and S Rodney McLeod (shoulder) fully participated.

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