MINNEAPOLIS - It was a play during an 11-on-11 situation on Monday that Irv Smith Jr. has probably done a hundred times.
He was blocking in a run situation, on what Kevin O’Connell labeled Wednesday "a simple play." The fourth-year tight end tweaked something in his thumb during the play, and headed inside TCO Performance Center to have trainers look at it. The result was surgery on Tuesday, and Smith’s training camp and preseason are likely over.
O’Connell did say there’s optimism that he’ll be ready for Week 1 against the Green Bay Packers. He said "everything went as we had hoped," and his recovery program to get back on the field has already started.
Now Smith’s challenge is to stay in shape to be ready when the thumb is healed.
"I’ve challenged Irv, let’s not allow that to truly affect your stamina, your conditioning, because he was in a great spot. He had worked his tail off all summer here when a lot of guys aren’t here to be right where we want him to be when he came back," O’Connell said. "My challenge to him is to just follow the protocols, what he’s allowed to do. How good can you be when you’re able to come back?"
It’s the second time in training camp Smith will miss extended time with an injury. Last preseason, he tore the meniscus in his knee at Kansas City and missed the entire season. That’s after 66 catches for 676 yards and seven touchdowns in his first two seasons.
Adversity is nothing new for Smith, and the hope is the latest setback is just a bump in the road. He’s in better shape than some NFL players who have already suffered season-ending injuries in training camp.
"I’d like to think he’s ready to handle some adversity that just hit in a way none of us would’ve liked. As I told him, an injury that holds you out right now, but we get you back potentially for that opener, that’s different than some of the news that came out around the league yesterday and we don’t take that for granted," O’Connell said.
Smith’s absence means more opportunities for Zach Davidson and Johnny Mundt. Davidson got most of the first-team reps and caught a touchdown Wednesday, but also dropped a ball that was intercepted by Patrick Peterson and had the ball stripped after a catch.
Davidson, in his second year out of Central Missouri, gives the Vikings a rare combination of size and speed at tight end. He’s listed at 6-7 and 251 pounds, and Kirk Cousins joked Wednesday that the trackers players wear during practice have Davidson topped out at 20.9 miles per hour. The fastest players on the team run 21 miles per hour.
"We have a T-shirt we give out in the building if you get to 21 miles per hour. I’m never going to see 21 miles per hour, but the fastest guys on the team are going 21, so it’s an elite group," Cousins said. "Zach is one of those guys who is at like 20.9, so whenever he gets vertical route, I know he’s going to be flying because he wants that tracker at the end of practice to say that he went 21. One of these days we’re going to get him that T-shirt."
Other notes from Wednesday’s practice:
- A day after having finger injuries at practice, Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison looked like themselves again. They each had stretches with long, explosive runs.
- Kellen Mond had a tough day, with two fumbled snaps and an interception on a pass headed for Davidson.
- Justin Jefferson and Cousins continue to build their chemistry. He had catches in the flat and over the middle in team situations.
- Patrick Peterson had two interceptions on the day, one on Mond after a Zach Davidson drop and the other beating Jefferson, high-pointing a deep pass.
- Greg Joseph, a day after special teams coach Matt Daniels said he’ll have the best season of his career, was a perfect 8-for-8 at the end of practice. That includes a near 60-yarder that had plenty of room to spare for his final kick.
The Vikings have an off day on Thursday before resuming practice at TCO Performance Center.