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With WR Charles Johnson Out, Vikings have shoes to fill at Denver

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — A pair of pink cleats sat on the floor of the Vikings locker room Friday afternoon, waiting to be packed.

They belong to rookie Stefon Diggs, who may be called on to fill them — and the shoes of others —Sunday when Minnesota (2-1) visits Denver (3-0) at 3:25 p.m. (CT).

After leading the Vikings in the preseason with 15 catches for 174 yards and a touchdown, Diggs has been inactive the first three games of the regular season as the team's sixth receiver.

Charles Johnson, however, has been ruled out with a ribs injury that sidelined him against San Diego. Jarius Wright, meanwhile, suffered a hand injury against the Chargers. He was limited Friday after two days on the sidelines and is listed as questionable to play against the Broncos.

"You've got to continue to sharpen your blade each and every day so I'm just continuing to do that," said Diggs without elaborating on his potential role. "I'm ready to do what they need me to do."

Head Coach Mike Zimmer said he thinks there wasn't a drawback to Wright missing a couple of days. He confirmed that the absences gave the rookie more of an opportunity to do things.

"These guys have been running the offense for a long time, so they're smart guys, they know what to do," Zimmer said. "I think for the young guys, it's good that they start to get in the mix a little bit and not just running on the show team. They're starting to get excited about the opportunities to play. I think the other thing that happens is they understand that they've got to stay ready because you never know."

Cordarrelle Patterson could be another player the Vikings assign with more tasks this weekend, along with Adam Thielen to join starter Mike Wallace.

"Each and every day I try to get better and focus on my craft," Patterson said. "My time is going to come and I've got to be ready when my opportunity comes, don't slip up or do anything stupid and take full advantage of it."

Zimmer said "I think he has an opportunity, yes," of Patterson.

Quite a combo

Zimmer was asked about what has helped Denver lead the league so far in third-down efficiency (opponents have converted 18.8 percent), and he said "pressure and coverage."

"They're not a huge blitz team, but they cover you. I think their corners do a good job, [Aqib] Talib is playing good, [Chris] Harris [Jr.] is good, they do a good job in there and they play tight and physical with the receivers and they can rush – they rush four, they rush five. There are times when they stay with their base defense and just take a safety out and put a corner in and play with three corners in their base defense, so they rush five guys and play a lot of man-to-man."

As for the pressure, often applied by outside linebackers DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller, Zimmer said getting the run game going can be a pressure valve. He also mentioned what he saw teams try to do to limit Hall of Famer Charles Haley in their days in Dallas together.

"We can always chip them. In the running game, we can bring guys from the outside," Zimmer said. "We've done that a lot, come down, get the tight end outside and crack them as they're rushing. Charles Haley, he used to get that all the time."

The Vikings also could get the ball out fast, but only if Vikings receivers quickly and convincingly win matchups.

"Everybody that watches football knows what they're doing on defense and their front is crazy," Wallace said. "It's no surprise that you have to get the ball out fast when you have those guys rushing, no matter who your offensive line is. We've got to get open quicker, but I have full confidence in our guys blocking."

Mile High meet-up

The game will mark a reunion of Wallace with his former Steelers teammate Emmanuel Sanders, who were also part of a group that included Antonio Brown and Hines Ward.

"That was a fun time. There's trash talking when you're on the field with those two dudes," Wallace said. "It took (Sanders) a while to play because he broke his foot in his first year, so he was our fourth guy because Hines was still playing but he would always talk like he was the best out of all of us.

"That's what makes him a good football player; no matter what situation he was in, he thinks he's the man, and that's the way it is," Wallace continued. "He's a baller, and I have nothing but high praise and high respect. I love him to death."

Any down and distance

In addition to Sanders, a one-time Pro Bowler, Demaryius Thomas has been selected in each of the past three seasons. There are stark contrasts, however, between the receivers.

Sanders checks in at 5-foot-11 and 186 pounds, and Thomas is listed at 6-3 and 229. Sanders is known for speed, and Thomas' size is obvious, but Captain Munnerlyn said the Vikings can't overlook the running ability of Thomas, particularly after the catch on quick screen passes.

"They're special receivers," Munnerlyn said. "They make big-time plays and catch the ball well. They make guys miss. Both of them are fast guys. A lot of guys say, 'Demaryius, he's really not that fast.' Oh yes he is. He can run, so we've got to cover these guys up and make plays.

"I watched the Detroit game [last Sunday], and it seemed like he had probably five screen plays," Munnerlyn added. "They don't care what down or distance it is. They're trying to get the ball into his hands and make guys miss. They definitely do a lot of that, but at the same time, we've got to execute the game plan and force Peyton Manning to show his hand a little."

Injury reports

Xavier Rhodes (concussion/neck) fully participated for a third straight day and is probable. Audie Cole (ankle) also fully participated and is questionable for the game. Justin Trattou (foot), Charles Johnson (ribs), Andrew Sendejo (knee) and Jabari Price (shoulder) did not participate and have been ruled out.

For the Broncos, Peyton Manning (not injury related), guard Louis Vasquez (knee), defensive end Kenny Anunike (knee), cornerback Omar Bolden (foot), running back Juwan Thompson (neck), cornerback Kayvon Webster (ankle) and tight end Owen Daniels (not injury related) fully participated.

Defensive end Vance Walker (elbow), guard Evan Mathis (hamstring) and linebacker Todd Davis were listed as limited. Tackle Ty Sambrailo (shoulder) and TE/FB James Casey (knee) did not participate. Sambrailo has been ruled out, Casey and Davis are questionable. All other Broncos are probable.

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