EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings have been down all year. Now they're even more depleted.
The transaction list released by the Vikings resembled a virtual white flag, with four key players placed on injured reserve with five games to go in a second straight dismal season. Two safeties, a wide receiver and the long snapper are out, joining two of their best three cornerbacks.
These are positions that lacked depth at the beginning of the year. But as tantalizing as securing that second overall draft pick for 2012 can be — assuming the winless Indianapolis Colts are on their way to locking up No. 1 — the Vikings (2-9) haven't abandoned their goal of finishing the season with success.
The ultracompetitive nature of professional sports makes it nearly impossible for coaches and players to think that way, for one. The Vikings will face legitimate playoff contenders in four of their last five games, another motivating factor. Plus, there's the fear of rushing a rookie into action too soon.
"If you don't feel like he's quite ready and you put him out there just for the sake of saying, 'We want to look at him in a game,' and now the kid fails or he jeopardizes someone else's health because he wasn't ready," coach Leslie Frazier said, "then that's not the wisest thing to do."
Frazier said this week's moves were not made because of the team's record. Only long snapper Cullen Loeffler and wide receiver Michael Jenkins would have a chance to return if the Vikings were still in the race for a playoff spot. So they've been left with no choice but to elevate the status of a handful of young players.
Strong safety Tyrell Johnson, who started three games this season to fill in while Jamarca Sanford and Husain Abdullah were injured, tore the hamstring tendon away from the bone in his right leg. Frazier said Johnson will need six months to recover. He was scheduled to have surgery Wednesday.
Abdullah also is done for the year, due to lingering concussion symptoms. That means sixth-round draft pick Mistral Raymond will start at safety next to Sanford, with Jarrad Page now backing them up. Page was signed Tuesday after being let go recently by the Philadelphia Eagles.
Jenkins, who leads the team with three touchdown receptions and is second in catches and yards, has torn meniscus cartilage — Frazier didn't say which knee — and will have surgery Thursday. His season-ending injury prompted the team to re-sign rookie Stephen Burton, a seventh-round draft pick who has been on and off the roster.
Thus, Greg Camarillo and Devin Aromashodu are the primary outside receivers, with the team's preference to use star returner/receiver Percy Harvin in the slot and limit his snaps to decrease his injury risk. That's not an ideal situation for quarterback Christian Ponder's development.
"The guys that we're going to have playing on Sunday are guys he's familiar with. They still have the ability to make plays for him," Frazier said. "You still want to make sure that you're doing the right thing by our team and by Christian as well."
Loeffler, who has a broken bone in his back, was replaced by Matt Katula. Cornerbacks Antoine Winfield (on injured reserve with a broken collarbone) and Chris Cook (out indefinitely while facing a felony assault charge) were already missing.
"It's been a down year for us, but we've just got to keep working. Next man up," Sanford said.
This is all in addition, of course, to running back Adrian Peterson, who sat out last week because of a sprained left ankle. He was held out of practice again on Wednesday. Frazier said the team is hoping he'll be able to suit up Sunday against the Denver Broncos.
"If Adrian is healthy enough to play he'll play. It wouldn't be any different if we were in Week 5 or Week 6," the coach said.
This is Page's fourth team in the last three seasons. He started his career strong with the Kansas City Chiefs, totaling four interceptions, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and 62 tackles as a third-year player in 2008, but he fell out of favor there and was traded to the New England Patriots for 2010. He signed with the Philadelphia Eagles this season, but after he got hurt and missed a game in October his replacement had three interceptions one afternoon.
"It's been a pretty easy transition over this first day. Things are clicking. I love the coaching staff already. It hasn't been hard, at least right now," Page said.
The Vikings could sure use the help.
Notes: Frazier said third-string QB Joe Webb would see some time at WR in practice this week. ... RG Anthony Herrera (knee) and CB Asher Allen (shoulder) were limited in practice on Wednesday, as was TE Kyle Rudolph (quadriceps). LB E.J. Henderson didn't participate at all because of a shoulder injury. Rudolph is "one guy for sure we think is going to make it" to the game on Sunday, Frazier said.
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