Notebook: Stopping Calvin Johnson will be a tall order for Vikings
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings secondary will get one of its biggest challenges of the young season on Sunday when they face Detroit standout Calvin Johnson.
The 6-foot-5, 236-pound wide receiver had 10 receptions for 137 yards with two touchdowns in two victories over the Vikings last season.
Johnson, whose nickname is Megatron, had seven catches for 108 yards with two touchdowns in a 26-23 overtime victory over the Vikings in Week 3 at the Metrodome. Cornerbacks Antoine Winfield and Chris Cook both played in that game for the Vikings.
Those two will be the starting corners on Sunday at Ford Field.
"When you go up against Calvin, you have to play physical because he is such a big body," said Cook, who is 6-2, 212 pounds. "He likes to use his body. Especially if you are going to go up to the line of scrimmage and press him, you have to play physical.
"You have to be ready to run because he can run. You never know what to expect because he creates a big challenge because he creates so many big plays. You just have to be prepared for him and prepare for him during the week."
The Lions rallied from a 20-0 halftime deficit in that Week 3 game in part because Johnson caught six passes for 101 yards in the second half. The Vikings started three corners, Cedric Griffin, Winfield and Cook, and Cook drew the primary assignment against Johnson because the Lions star lined up wide right more often than not.
Johnson did beat Cook downfield once and boxed him out on a jump ball for a 32-yard touchdown that sparked the Lions' rally, but Cook also broke up two other passes.
"It was a nice play by Chris and he's matched up pretty good with Calvin on the occasions when he's lined up against him," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "(I'm) glad we'll have him for this game and it should be a good battle."
Cook, who did not play in the Vikings' second game against the Lions in December because of off-the-field issues, called Johnson, "one of the toughest receivers I've ever faced."
Frazier said the key to playing against Johnson is getting good position.
"He already has the length, so you have to find a way to try to stay on top of routes and not be underneath routes and try to find the ball," Frazier said. "You have to be able to put yourself in a position where you can see the ball because if he's in a position where he can see it and you have trouble finding it, his leaping ability, his athletic ability, he's going to come down with it more times than not.
"So you don't want to get in a position where you're playing underneath him. You don't want to get in a position where you can't find the ball. It can be very tough with a guy like him."
Last week, Cook spent time going against future Hall of Fame receiver Randy Moss of the 49ers. Moss had only three catches for 27 yards. Moss, however, is near the end of his career at the age of 35, and Johnson is coming off a season in which he led the NFL with 1,681 receiving yards and was second with 16 touchdowns.
Johnson's 369 yards this season again lead the NFL and he is third in the league with 24 receptions. Last Sunday, the 27-year-old had 10 catches for 164 yards and a touchdown in the Lions' 44-41 overtime loss at Tennessee.
"I always look forward to playing the best guys in the country and the world," Cook said. "We had Randy Moss last week and we have Calvin this week. They are both a big challenge and both legendary when you talk about them at the receiver position. I look forward to playing guys like that and I look forward to the challenge."
What the heck is it?
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford sat out Wednesday's practice because of a hip injury suffered late in the fourth quarter last Sunday.
The Lions have changed the description of what's wrong with Stafford three times. Initially they said he had leg muscle strain, then they changed it to a hamstring issue on the first injury report issued Wednesday and then they revised that report to make it a hip injury.
Whatever it is, Stafford told reporters that he felt much better Wednesday than he did Sunday, but still must continue to do some rehab before he can return to practice. Former Vikings backup quarterback Shaun Hill took the first-team reps with the Lions on Wednesday.
"We'll prepare as if he is going to start," Frazier said of Stafford. "We'll, of course, look at tape on Shaun Hill as well but, yeah, we're expecting Stafford to be the starter and then we'll have to adjust if it's Shaun Hill."
Hill helped to rally the Lions from a 41-27 deficit last Sunday in the fourth quarter by throwing touchdown passes of 3 yards to Johnson with 18 seconds left and a 46-yard desperation pass that was caught by wide receiver Titus Young after being tipped as time expired in regulation.
Also sitting out for the Lions on Wednesday were safety Louis Delmas (knee), linebacker Travis Lewis (quad), tight end Tony Scheffler (calf), defensive tackle Corey Williams (knee) and Young (knee).
Running back Mikel Leshoure, who made his NFL debut last Sunday by rushing for 100 yards and a touchdown, was limited in practice because of a groin injury.
Linebacker Justin Durant (back), defensive end Lawrence Jackson (calf), Johnson (ankle) and guard Rob Sims (knee) also were limited. Tackle Corey Hilliard (elbow) was listed as a full participant.
Work in progress
Running back Toby Gerhart said he would spend all week working to correct the issues that led to him being charged with three fumbles late in the fourth quarter of last Sunday's victory over San Francisco.
While the first fumble clearly was a blown call, the second two were cases in which Gerhart did lose the ball and one of those resulted in a turnover.
"It was one of those fluke things. It was crazy," Gerhart said. "I've got to get better. We watched it on tape and identified some things we are going to work on this week. I am excited to get back on the field and get that first carry and put it all behind me and move on."
Gerhart, who lost five of seven fumbles in his first three NFL seasons, said he needs to make sure that as he approaches any contact he gets two hands on the football.
"That is the way you have been taught since you were a kid," he said. "I got away from that a little bit, I might be overconfident. Especially in a situation like that where everyone is going for the ball. I'll definitely be conscious about it."
Asked if he can't afford to over think the fumbles, Gerhart said: "If you dwell on it or think about it too much, then you get overly conscious and then you don't run the ball well.
"If you think about holding it, you'll be all rigid. It is one of those things where, yes, you have to address it, yes as a running back it should never come out, but at the same time you have to go out and play and not think about it too much."
Wide receiver Jerome Simpson reported Wednesday that he caught a 60-yard pass from Christian Ponder in his first practice back after serving a three-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.
The Vikings, of course, are hoping that Simpson will become a vertical threat in an offense that hasn't featured much of a downfield passing game so far.
"It was great. I was like a kid at a candy store," Simpson said of being back on the field with his teammates. "It was great to be back out there with the guys running plays. Actually, being able to run real plays with the quarterback and just trying to get my timing down and being the best player I can."
Early on in the practice, when reporters were allowed to watch, it appeared that Ponder and Simpson struggled with their timing. The two had developed a nice chemistry during the offseason and training camp, but Simpson did not play in the final two exhibition games and then sat out against Jacksonville, Indianapolis and San Francisco.
"It was just (Ponder) getting back used to my speed and just how I run my routes and everything," Simpson said. "(We were) just a little rusty, but during practice we made some connections. We got a good go-ball early in practice that we connected on so it was a good feeling."
Simpson said his conditioning felt good.
Reporters, by the way, didn't see Ponder's deep pass to Simpson because they are only allowed to watch the first portion of practice.
The Vikings have until 3 p.m. Thursday to make a roster move in order to get down to the 53-man limit. Right now, they are at 54 players, with Simpson being back.
Frazier said the Vikings, "have an idea," of the roster move they will make to clear room from Simpson.
Defensive end Brian Robison said the brace he continues to wear on his left elbow did not impact him last Sunday against San Francisco. Robison was credited with a fumble recovery, but only was in on one tackle and did not have a sack or quarterback hit.
"It didn't really affect me at all," said Robison, who has no sacks and four quarterback this season. "They did a lot of things to keep us from getting to the passer. They did a lot of three-step passes. We looked at it on tape, and I think they might have had like two or three times where they didn't hold the ball more than two seconds. That's tough to get there. I played the run well and did everything I needed to do."
• Linebacker Erin Henderson (concussion), safety Mistral Raymond (ankle) and tight end Kyle Rudolph (quadriceps) did not practice for the Vikings on Wednesday. Defensive ends Jared Allen (neck) and D'Aundre Reed (calf) and safety Andrew Sendejo (ankle) were limited. Linebacker Marvin Mitchell (ankle), who started in place of Henderson last Sunday, was on the injury report but did not miss any practice time. Raymond will not play Sunday and will be replaced by Jamarca Sanford as the starting strong safety.
• Frazier was asked about his decision not to have rookie receiver Jarius Wright active, despite the fact he had been listed as probably on the Friday injury report after recovering from a sprained ankle. "We just felt like give him another week," Frazier said. "Let him practice a little bit more. There were some things we saw in practice that said give him a little bit more time. We felt like getting past this past week would help him."
Dana Wessel contributed.