EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Plug 'n' play has been the way for the Vikings offensive line this season as injuries have created opportunities for reserves.
With left guard Charlie Johnson ruled out this week because of an ankle injury against the New York Jets, the projected starting lineup of LT Matt Kalil, LG Vladimir Ducasse, C John Sullivan, RG Joe Berger and RT Mike Harris will be the fifth combination of guys to start a game this season.
Ducasse, Berger and Harris all started the season as backups, but Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said "they are guys that battle."
"All three of them, they hang in there," Zimmer said. "They're pretty smart in getting where they're supposed to go. This will be a good test for them, and the Jets were a good test, too. They're pretty good up front as well."
The Vikings road graters will face a significant challenge on the road when Minnesota (6-7) visits Detroit (9-4) at 3:25 p.m. Sunday at Ford Field.
In addition to an active defensive front, one that Vikings Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner said is "playing as well as anybody in the NFL," the linemen will need sync their footwork and communicate through opposing crowd noise for the first time in almost a month.
"I think (offensive line coach) Jeff (Davidson) has done a great job, Jeff and Hank [Fraley] have done a great job of getting those guys ready to play, getting those guys ready, the backups ready to play even when they weren't starters," Turner said. "I think being at home has helped us the last couple of weeks, being at home and being able to kind of have a little bit more control. This will be a challenge. You go on the road, you go in a dome, you go against the defensive front … this will be a real test for our guys."
Kalil has been a constant at left tackle, and Sullivan hasn't missed a start, which is important because of his role as the group's principal communicator. Kalil said coaches have prepared players to be the next men up.
"Jeff's been doing a great job all year of throwing guys in spots and just kind of getting used to playing all different positions," Kalil said. "Vladimir playing right guard, left guard, I think he's used to switching off, and Mike Harris is doing a good job at right tackle, and Joe Berger is kind of the mauler in there. We've still got a great bunch of backups, great guys to step up and fill in that starting role. I'm not worried about this week. I feel like the guys we've got out there are pretty solid."
Kalil said there will be some slight differences in playing next to Ducasse after the past three seasons of playing alongside Johnson, but said they've been able to work on the changes this week.
"Vladimir is a big, strong guy, so it's not too hard to correct little things because his strength usually takes over," Kalil said.
Sunday is likely to be the third consecutive start for Berger and Harris to play alongside each other on the offensive line.
"I think the more time you have together, the more you can think with each other and not have that verbal communication as much as knowing where each other is at," Berger said. "It's important to make sure everybody is together. Sometimes that means passing the calls down, or whatever it takes to get everybody on the same page."
Harris, who is in his first year as a Viking after two seasons in San Diego, said Berger's 10 years of experience have been helpful.
"(Detroit does) a lot of stunting, so as offensive linemen we've got to use technique and proper footwork, be able to pass off games and have good site recognition if the linebackers try to blitz," Harris said. "They're going to be at home and going to be loud."
Minnesota will have some support in the crowd because Berger is a native of Newaygo, Mich.
"It's always fun to go back to Michigan and play in front of the home crowd there," Berger said. "Unfortunately, a lot of them haven't made the turn to the right team, but that's all good. Most of the tickets I've gotten are for family, so they're already (Vikings fans)."
DEPTH TEST ON DEFENSE TOO: In addition to Johnson being ruled out, Minnesota's defense will be without a starter along the defensive line at linebacker and in the secondary. Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (knee), linebacker Anthony Barr (knee) and safety Robert Blanton (ankle/knee) were all ruled out for Sunday.
Floyd has been trying to play through a knee issue but been forced to the sidelines in each of the past two games. Gerald Hodges started in place of Barr last week and returned his first career interception 27 yards for his first touchdown on the opening play from scrimmage. Andrew Sendejo, who replaced Blanton last week, caused the other turnover by the Jets when he forced a fumble that was recovered by Captain Munnerlyn.
Click here for the full injury report for both teams.
PETERSON APPEAL:Adrian Peterson's appeal of a Nov. 18 suspension by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has been denied, third-party arbitrator Harold Henderson announced Friday.
The decision by Henderson upheld Goodell's suspension, under which the running back will not be considered for reinstatement by the league before April 15, 2015.