Vikings tight end Smith will miss the preseason after thumb surgery

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Irv Smith Jr.’s quest for the elusive season everyone had been predicting for more than a year hit another snag Tuesday when the Vikings’ fourth-year tight end underwent thumb surgery to repair an injury suffered Monday during the team’s first practice with lining.

Smith, who missed all of last season with a torn meniscus in his right knee, was injured early in practice and returned to the field to watch. The team’s medical staff discussed letting the thumb heal on its own, but chose surgery as the “best step forward,” coach Kevin O’Connell said.

“We’re still very firm in our process to get him back and hopefully have him, barring any setbacks, available for the opener” against the Packers on Sept. 11 at US Bank Stadium, O’Connell said.

Already a weak position, the Vikings now have just two healthy tight ends — Johnny Mundt and Hawley, Minnesota native Ben Ellefson — with regular season NFL experience. And the pair has just 11 NFL catches — Mandt’s 10 — on 18 targets for 103 yards and no touchdowns between them.

Mundt, a 27-year-old former Ram who followed O’Connell and Vikings offensive coordinator Wes Phillips to Los Angeles after winning the Super Bowl, has played 47 games in five starts in five years since entering the league with a 6- 4, 233-pound undrafted free agent out of Oregon.

“Johnny’s a smart player,” said Phillips, who coached the Rams last year. “He’s always going to know what to do. He’s physical on the run.

“In Los Angeles, the defensive players started calling him ‘Mundt’s Strong Arms.’ He was throwing those hands and it wasn’t a passing comment. Johnny’s physicality in running, he’s explosive as a runner.”

Mundt’s career pass catcher came against the Bears in 2020. He had three catches for 48 yards in the 24-10 victory.

“We started calling him the Bear Killer because that’s how it worked out [starter Tyler] Higbee wasn’t around when we played in Chicago,” Phillips said. “Every time Johnny got an opportunity, he just produced.”

Ellefson, 25, is another run-blocking tight end at 6-3, 250. He played in 12 games with 4 starts, all with Jacksonville, as a rookie out of North Dakota State in 2020. He caught one ball for 10 yards with Jacksonville before joining the Vikings and has not caught one in five games.

The other healthy tight ends on the roster are 24-year-old second-year players Zach Davidson and Sean Beyer and 23-year-old rookie Nick Muse. Davidson, 6-7, 245 pounds punter and tight end from Central Missouri, was a 2021 fifth-round pick. Muse, 6-4, 249 pounds, was a seventh-round pick this year. Beyer spent part of last season with the Broncos as a rookie before signing with the Vikings before camp.

“Anytime someone gets upset — we all feel for Irva because of how hard he worked in the offseason to get to that spot — but it just gives other guys an opportunity to come in there and show what they can do.” Phillips said.

“We are very excited to bring Johnny Mundt here; Ben Ellefson has had a good camp so far; Zach Davidson is a talented guy who is getting better every day. We signed Sean Beyer. So we’ve got a big group of guys out there that are kind of fighting for roles and it’ll be good for them to get some more reps and see how it goes.”

Meanwhile, Smith faces another road to recovery. The 2019 second-round draft pick caught 36 balls for 311 yards and two touchdowns. He followed that up with 30 catches for 365 yards and five touchdowns and was poised to step in as the starter when Kyle Rudolph left after the 2020 season.

How long will it take Smith to get back to where he was before Monday’s injury?

“We’ll just have to see where he’s at when he comes back,” Phillips said. “The good thing about it is, from a lower-half perspective, he might not be able to catch balls for a while, whatever that schedule is, but from a lower-half perspective, he’ll be able to get a lot of good work. He must be in shape, must be ready to work. I know he’s hungry.”

Correction:
An earlier version of this story referred to the knee injury Irv Smith suffered last season.

Vikings tight end Smith will miss the preseason after thumb surgery

Source link Vikings tight end Smith will miss the preseason after thumb surgery