Notebook: Christian Ponder could sit, Adrian Peterson nearing return
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Christian Ponder likely won't play Sunday against the Detroit Lions if he can't practice Friday, while running back Adrian Peterson appears to be close to returning after missing two games because of a high left ankle sprain.
Ponder, the Minnesota Vikings rookie quarterback, did not practice for the second day in a row Thursday because of a hip injury. Peterson, meanwhile, did limited work and coach Leslie Frazier seemed encouraged after the Pro Bowl running back was able to practice for the first time since he was injured on Nov. 20.
The Vikings plan to see how Peterson's ankle feels Friday morning and hope to get him back on the field to do some more work. "He's headed in the right direction, far more improved than he was a week ago," Frazier said.
Asked what was most encouraging, Frazier said it was Peterson's ability to plant and cut.
"He was much better in doing that (Thursday)," Frazier said. "That was one of our concerns because as we all know he's one of those guys who runs hard and he'll stop on a dime and cut in any direction. He was able to do that today without pain, so that was encouraging. We'll see how he does (Friday), how he feels when he wakes up (in the) morning."
Frazier made it clear that Peterson does not need to be at 100 percent to play.
"What is 100 percent for him?" Frazier said. "He's played a lot of games at less than 100 percent and played extremely well. So we'll have to make sure (Friday) that he can do the things he needs to do, if he's going to play in the game on Sunday."
Ponder, who is 1-5 since taking over as the Vikings' starting quarterback, did some work on the side Thursday. He was injured early in last Sunday's loss to Denver but did not leave the game.
Frazier said the Vikings are hoping Ponder can practice on Friday, adding that would serve as the indicator as to whether he will have a chance to play Sunday at Ford Field.
"If he's not able to do anything (Friday), I'd be hard-pressed for us to get him in the game," Frazier said. "We need to see him take some snaps and move around a little bit to make a decision about him playing. It would be tough to do something, if he can't do anything (Friday)."
Wednesday and Thursday are the two most important practices of the week in the NFL, so Ponder already has missed valuable time.
"When you consider he's a rookie," Frazier said, "any time missed as you're in preparation for a game sets you back. There's no question about it. You can't ignore that. But he's a guy who is invested in what we're doing in the classroom, he's at practice watching, he's paying attention. So he'll be up on what we're doing.
"It's just a matter of, 'Can he do the things he has to do as a quarterback?' One of the things he's done so well is escape pressure with his mobility. So if he can handle that part of it ... the mental part, he's exceptional when it comes to that. He'll get that. It's a matter of, 'Can I protect myself if for some reason things break down?'"
If Ponder can't go, Joe Webb will get the start for the Vikings.
"He's excited about this opportunity to get a chance to play if it comes to fruition," Frazier said. "We have a lot of confidence in Joe that he'll do a good job. I know the guys always rally around him, they like to see Joe out there playing, so we'll see what happens."
Harvin injures finger
Wide receiver Percy Harvin suffered a torn ligament in his finger during Wednesday's practice when he fell down trying to brace himself, according to Frazier.
Harvin was limited in practice Thursday but Frazier said he should be fine to play Sunday and will have the finger taped.
Also limited in practice Thursday were guard Steve Hutchinson (illness); defensive end Brian Robison (concussion); cornerback Asher Allen (shoulder); linebacker Chad Greenway (elbow); defensive end Everson Griffen (quadriceps); and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe (hand).
Robison had to pass the IMPACT test to get back on the field.
Herrera earns honor
Herrera was selected as the Vikings winner of the Ed Block Courage Award. The honor, which was voted on by Herrera's teammates, goes to a player who exemplifies commitment to the principles of sportsmanship and courage. Each team has one player who receives the award.
Herrera returned this season after undergoing season-ending surgery last year to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee that he suffered in November against Green Bay. Herrera also had surgery to repair a triceps muscle during the offseason.
He missed four games this season because of an injury to the lateral collateral ligament in his left knee.
When healthy, Herrera has been the Vikings starting right guard since early in the 2007 season. He was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Tennessee in 2004.
"As long as I've been doing this everyone always has counted me out and I've alwayed proved them wrong," Herrera said.
Herrera said he never doubted he would rebound from the ACL surgery.
"He's overcome so much," Frazier said. " ... Even looking back at his days in college. To think that he would one day play pro football there was nothing that indicated that he'd be a professional football player. Now to play as long as he has, and overcome some of the things he has overcome, it just tells you the type of character that he has.
"He's a tremendous person, a great competitor, a real good leader for our players and our team. Just happy to see good things happen to good people."
Cornerback Cedric Griffin, who tore the ACL in each knee in a two-year span, and linebacker E.J. Henderson, who broke his leg late in the 2009 season, won the award for the Vikings in 2010 and 2009, respectively.
Too many breakdowns
Defensive coordinator Fred Pagac said three of the Broncos' four big plays Sunday were the result of breakdowns and mental mistakes by the Vikings.
"Those are things that you can't accept and you can't have," Pagac said.
Pagac said rookie Mistral Raymond, who started at free safety, wasn't directly at fault for any of the Broncos' big gains. "Mistakes were made, we have to correct those and move on," Pagac said of the entire secondary.
Nose tackle Remi Ayodele, who has been a non-factor much of this season, played 24 snaps Sunday and had a sack and four tackles. It was his first sack of the season.
Ayodele is listed at 6-2, 318-pounds and there have been some questions about his conditioning.
"I'm not sure the shape factor has been a problem with him," Pagac said. "Maybe it's been the scheme or whatever, but he played better on Sunday and obviously had a pretty good sack and did some good things for us."
The Broncos were able to pull within a point of the Vikings in the third quarter the play after Quan Crosby returned a kickoff 63 yards. Kicker Ryan Longwell had to make the tackle.
Mike Priefer, the Vikings special teams coordinator, said the fact rookie Brandon Burton was unable to get off a block proved costly.
"Brandon's got to get off that block and fill," Priefer said. "He knows that. He just didn't play the play like he normally should and it hurt us."
Part of the issue is that because of all the injuries the Vikings have, the personnel they use on special teams is being adjusted far more than usual.
"That's not an excuse, that's just reality right now and I've got to keep coaching them, I've got to stay on them, I've got to keep reminding them before the play what they're instructed to do," Priefer said.
"(Crosby's return is) just one of those game-changing plays that you don't want to have happen to your football team because we really were going to win the special-teams battle in my mind up until that point. Then they got the momentum going for their team and we just couldn't get it back."
Atlanta wide receiver Kerry Meier was fined $20,000 by the NFL last week for an illegal blindside block to the head area of Vikings long snapper Cullen Loeffler after a Chris Kluwe punt during the Falcons' victory on Nov. 27 at the Georgia Dome.
Loeffler broke a bone in his lower back and is out for the remainder of the season.
Priefer said that hit will be part of the training tape he puts together to show his players. The NFL does not allow such hits and changed the rule about a year ago, according to Priefer.
"Most rookies don't understand that," Priefer said. "It was borderline (whether it was dirty). It was away from the play, probably head-to-head. I'm glad for Cullen's sake that he got fined, but it doesn't bring Cullen back any quicker, unfortunately."
• Raymond was called for holding on one Vikings punt return against Denver and for an illegal block above the waist on another. Both came in the second quarter. So what happened? "It's either (him being) jacked up or just being a rookie," Priefer said. "He tackled the one guy after they had him blocked. He and Benny Sapp were doing a great job of holding him up and he tackled him. It's baffling. That second one, right at the point of attack, he made a poor decision. We talk about it ad nauseam, it drives me crazy. Hopefully, we'll get better in the last four weeks and build on that."
• With Marcus Sherels seeing time on defense and multiple special-teams units, the Vikings have considered using either Asher Allen, Greg Camarillo or Lorenzo Booker on punt returns. Sherels is averaging 8.4 yards on 30 returns this season and, for now, will remain in the return role, according to Priefer.
• Seven players did not take part in practice for the Lions on Thursday, including safeties Louis Delmas (knee) and Amari Spievey (illness), defensive tackle Nick Fairley (foot), linebacker Jason Durant (hamstring), cornerback Chris Houston (knee), defensive end Lawrence Jackson (thigh) and running back Kevin Smith (ankle). Cornerback Brandon McDonald (thigh), guard Rob Sims (shoulder) and defensive end Willie Young (ankle) were limited.