After a short break following their Thursday night contest last week, the Minnesota Vikings resumed practice on Tuesday. That's the good news.
The bad news is that they did so, once again, without their three best defensive players.
As they did leading up to the Arizona game, linebacker Anthony Barr, defensive tackle Linval Joseph, and safety Harrison Smith sat out of Tuesday's practice session. It was a lighter practice session, and the team doesn't have to officially release their first injury report until Wednesday, but it still isn't something that Vikings fans wanted to see.
How big a part of the Vikings' defense have those three players been this season? According to Pro Football Focus, there were twenty-two defensive players that had an overall season grade of 90 or higher going into Week 14 action. Barr, Joseph, and Smith were three of those players. As it stands right now, Smith is the #1 safety in the National Football League by PFF, while Joseph is the #3 interior defender and Barr is the #4 linebacker.
In what could probably be perceived as a bit of a bad sign for Joseph's availability, the Vikings brought another big body in for a workout. That body belongs to former Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Phil Taylor, who was the Browns' first-round pick (#21 overall) in the 2011 NFL Draft. He was released by the Browns in their first round of cuts this pre-season. Taylor has flashed plenty of promise in the past, having made the All-Rookie team in 2011, but has had some serious issues with injuries over his career. Prior to being released by Cleveland, he had missed at least eight games in two of his previous three seasons.
In somewhat more positive injury news, safety Andrew Sendejo was back at practice today, as was linebacker Brandon Watts.
This is definitely something we'll be tracking as the week wears on. Maybe those three players were just held out of today's practice as a precaution or for other reasons we're not sure of. Many, myself included, thought that the team releasing Shaun Prater was a good sign for Smith's return, at the very least. Hopefully there will be more light shed on this situation in the next day or two.