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Updated: November 1st, 2012 5:40pm
Notebook: Safety set to return but how much he'll play is uncertain

Notebook: Safety set to return but how much he'll play is uncertain

by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings safety Mistral Raymond is expected to return from a right ankle injury Sunday in Seattle but it's not certain how much time he will play.

Raymond, a sixth-round pick in 2011, opened the season as the starting strong safety ahead of Jamarca Sanford but was injured in the first quarter of the Vikings' 24-13 victory over San Francisco in Week 3 at the Metrodome. Although the injury initially appeared as if it might be season-ending, Raymond did not require surgery after suffering an incomplete or partial dislocation of the ankle.

Sanford has played well with Raymond out and coach Leslie Frazier acknowledged Thursday that Sanford "likely" will continue to start Sunday.

Frazier said a decision on Raymond's potential playing time will be made after seeing how he does in Friday's practice. The coaches want to make sure Raymond has confidence in his ankle and his ability to move and cut on it.

He returned to the practice field the week before the Vikings' game on Oct. 21 against Arizona and has been limited in how much work he can do.

"He's beginning to move with a lot less concern it seems about his ankle," Frazier said. "He's moving a little bit more freely. Still a little gingerly in some cuts but much better every day, and hopefully he'll be better (Friday) as well."

There is a chance Raymond could rotate in for a few series in place of Sanford, if he's ready to go, but defensive coordinator Alan Williams said he isn't sure Raymond can play a full game at this point.

"Conditioning out on the field and in practice is a little bit different from playing in a ballgame," Williams said. "We want to be cautious with him ... we'd rather be conservative than be really aggressive and put him out there for a full game and have him not be ready.

"We'll ease him into it and see how he does and see how this week goes for him. If he's feeling great at the end of the week and says, 'Hey, coach, I'm just ready to go,' we'll ease him into it faster than if he says, 'You know what? My conditioning isn't quite where it was and I'm getting my feet and my legs up underneath me.' Again, we'll take it easy on him."

Rookie to start?

Frazier still won't say whether rookie Josh Robinson or third-year player A.J. Jefferson will get the start at right cornerback on Sunday in place of the injured Chris Cook (broken arm).

Robinson, a third-round pick in last April's draft, is the logical choice given he has been the first corner to enter the game in nickel situations. Frazier said the Vikings wanted to watch Robinson practice Thursday and then again Friday before making a decision.

Frazier did acknowledge that the fact Robinson has played in the nickel defense, and even started one game at left corner in place of Antoine Winfield, does provide an advantage.

"It helps a lot," Frazier said. "He's had a lot of good, quality reps in the nickel package and it definitely helps him. He's gained more experience by doing that."

Cook, who has been placed on injured reserve with the designation to return, is a significant loss for the defense, but Williams said there will be no drastic adjustments made.

"We didn't build the defense around Cook," Williams said. "It's a collective effort in terms of the players that we have, so when one guy goes down we don't change a whole bunch. Really we don't change at all. We do what we're going to do, and guys have to execute the defense."

Getting better

Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said wide receiver Jerome Simpson is "getting back to being close to healthy" after battling weakness in his lower leg and foot in recent weeks. The issue is believed to be related to an issue with a disc in Simpson's back.

"I think the injury played a little bit of a role," in his production issues, Musgrave said. "We know he's working hard each and every day in practice, and we're looking forward to really getting more production out of him and sending more balls his way."

Simpson missed the first three games of the season serving an NFL suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy. He returned in Week 4 against Detroit and caught four passes for 50 yards while drawing two pass interference penalties.

But the following Sunday he woke up with numbness in his leg and foot and did not catch a pass against Tennessee. He was held out the following week at Washington.

In the past two games, Simpson has three receptions for 45 yards and no touchdowns. One of the issues is that Simpson seems to have trouble getting separation from cornerbacks, something that isn't good for a guy who is expected to be a vertical threat.

"We need to do a better job also of asking him to run different types of routes as well," Musgrave said. "We're looking forward to that starting this week."

With opposing safeties often coming up near the line of scrimmage to try to stop running back Adrian Peterson, Frazier was asked if quarterback Christian Ponder might look for Simpson over the deep middle.

"We've had some over routes that we've tried to connect on, more so with Devin (Aromashodu) than Jerome," Frazier said. "But we think there are some opportunities for Jerome as well. We did connect last week on that deep seven route, he made a real nice catch on. So we've got some other ways to try to get him the ball. But he's shown the ability to run by people, so we want to take advantage of that. But you'd like to get a few more options for him."

Frazier expressed optimism that Simpson will have a bigger impact in the second half of the season, too.

"As we go along he'll become more acclimated to what we're trying to get done, and we'll get a better rhythm of how to use him as well," Frazier said. "But I think we're making some progress, we just haven't connected as often as we'd like. I think it will come and hopefully this will be the week that it does come."

Familiar face

The Vikings coaching staff will see a familiar face on Sunday when they face the Seahawks' Russell Wilson. The rookie quarterback played for the North team last January in the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. That squad was coached by the Vikings staff.

"That was a very beneficial week for our staff, and Russell was one of the real standouts on the offensive side of the ball in terms of leadership and awareness," Musgrave said.

Williams, who is attempting to come up with a scheme to stop Wilson, learned that the former Wisconsin Badger was "as good as advertised."

"He was a poised, confident, guy that you couldn't rattle and a guy that picked up the schemes very well," Williams said. "Not that we did a whole bunch, but what we did do, he picked up and showed great leadership even then. So, we know the things that we're seeing on tape now, we expected those things."

No worries

Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer isn't concerned about punter Chris Kluwe, even though the Vikings raised some eyebrows this week by reportedly working out free-agent Brian Stahovich.

"He's been in the league a long time, he's fixed problems before," Priefer said of Kluwe. "I know Coach Frazier said (this Wednesday), and he's exactly right, '(Kluwe's) a pro.' He's got to come out of his funk a little bit. He hurt us the other night (against Tampa Bay). He knows it. He felt bad because we think we have a pretty good punt cover team and he hurt our team momentum- wise, he hurt our team field-position wise.

"I know he'll come back from that. He's going to have a great week this week. He had a good day of practice (Wednesday) and we've just got to get him to bounce back. Just like any player at any other position, we've got to bounce back and continue to get better."

Kluwe ranks 26th in the NFL this season with a gross average of 43.8 yards per punt and 18th with a net average of 39.9 yards -- not far off his career averages of 44.3 gross and 37.1 net. But the eight-year veteran has struggled with consistency.

He heard boos from the Metrodome crowd after shanking a 20-yard punt out of bounds in the Vikings' loss a week ago Thursday to the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay turned it into a field goal and never relinquished the lead.

"I think he mentioned his drop and that's probably what it was," Priefer said. "When (you study it) on tape and looking at it myself, and look at it even on the practice tape, when he miss-hits them, usually it's the drop that's inside. He kicks across his body like a lot of punters. It's all based on the drop. He's got a tremendous leg, we all know that, we've all seen it. It all comes down to the drop. If he's got a good drop, he's going to hit a good punt."

While Kluwe has plenty of off-the-field interests and is outspoken about certain issues -- most notably, his high-profile stance against an amendment that would ban same-sex marriage in Minnesota -- Priefer said none of that concerns him.

"The only thing I've focused on this week is how we're going to beat Seattle," Priefer said. "The other stuff, I don't care. I don't care about his opinions. I don't care about his off-the-field stuff. All I care about is beating Seattle and how he can help us beat Seattle."

No issues with the call

Priefer, speaking to the media for the first time since Percy Harvin had a game-opening 103-yard kickoff return for a touchdown wiped out by an illegal block above the waist call on Marvin Mitchell in the Vikings' win over the Cardinals, said it was a "good call" that cost the Vikings the potential score.

"You have to call it because of where our guy was," Priefer said. "I don't even know if he hit him. But because the (defender) dove for Percy ... Percy was going to make him miss anyway, so I don't even think we needed to (do that), but because in relationship to where he was, the official that called it was back here and it looked like a block in the back."

Quick hits

• The Vikings did not make any trades before the 3 p.m. league deadline on Thursday and have yet to fill the 53rd roster spot created when Cook was placed on injured reserve.

• Musgrave said Ponder's struggles of late, which include inaccuracy, are part of the growing process for a maturing quarterback. "We've got a young quarterback, as we realize, who is in the developmental stage," Musgrave said. "He's done some outstanding things through the first half of our regular season. We've also done some not so outstanding things as an offense and him personally. It's part of the process, I believe. He's going to work through it. We're going to work through it as an offense and try to be more consistent in the accuracy department." 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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