Out two months, Vikings tight end Smith back practicing

Out two months, Vikings tight end Smith back practicing

Vikings tight end Irv Smith Jr. returned to practice on Wednesday for the first time since suffering a high ankle sprain in the Oct. 30 win over the Cardinals.

The Vikings have three weeks to activate Smith, who remains on injured reserve, or shelve him for the rest of the season. Both Smith and head coach Kevin O'Connell have said he should play again this year. Smith has yet to play with tight end T.J. Hockenson, who was acquired Nov. 1. When Smith can play again will be determined by how his ankle reacts to practice, O'Connell said.

"It's great for our team, the depth we have at that position with Irv coming back and T.J. really emerging since we got him," O'Connell said. "It will be huge for us."

Center Garrett Bradbury (back) remained sidelined. He has not practiced since suffering what he called a setback during a minor car accident after the Dec. 17 win over the Colts. Nose tackle James Lynch (shoulder) also did not practice.

Cornerback Cameron Dantzler was upgraded to a full participant after missing a fifth game on Saturday due to a lingering ankle injury. O'Connell didn't reveal whether Dantzler, who has nine starts, or Duke Shelley, who has three starts, would get the nod if both are healthy.

"Duke has played really well," O'Connell said. "I also think Cam has done some good things this year. ... I just feel good about the depth at that spot. At times we've been tested there."

The Vikings activated running back Ty Chandler, the rookie fifth-round pick, from injured reserve. He suffered a broken thumb in the Oct. 9 win over the Bears.

'A moment I'll remember'

For the second time this season, Vikings kicker Greg Joseph has been named NFC special teams player of the week, the league announced Wednesday.

Joseph lifted the Vikings over the Giants with a 61-yard, game-winning field goal as time expired in a 27-24 win on Saturday. The kick was the longest in the 62-year history of the Vikings, and the second-longest field goal of this NFL season.

On Wednesday, Joseph shared that his best friend's grandfather passed away "within a couple minutes" of Saturday's kick. Joseph said they're like a "second family" to him. He was told "it was one last kick" his friend's grandfather wanted to see.

"A moment I'll remember," Joseph said, "partly because there are bigger things than football."

Joseph has made 20 straight kicks, last missing in the Nov. 24 win against the Patriots. He has converted 22 of 27 field goals (81.5%) — missing only from beyond 50 yards — and 36 of 41 extra points (87.8%) this season. He was previously named conference player of the week after a game-winning field goal on Oct. 2 against the Saints.

Cousins honored

Quarterback Kirk Cousins was named the Bart Starr Award winner, which honors an NFL player who "best exemplifies outstanding character and leadership in the home, on the field and in the community." Cousins joins quarterback Warren Moon and receiver Cris Carter as the only Vikings players to be honored with the award, established in 1989.

Cousins said the recognition "means a great deal to me" before recalling meeting Starr during a 2013 trip to Lambeau Field when he was with Washington.

"We were just standing around, waiting, so I said, 'You know, I may never get to meet Bart Starr again,' so I ran down toward their tunnel and just tapped him on the shoulder," Cousins said. "Shook his hand, introduced myself and told him, basically, 'Well done.' Well done on the life he's lived and not only what he did on the football field but who he was as a man and person."