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Zimmer’s fear: Vikings ‘going to have guys miss games’ without vaccine

·4 min read

As the Vikings prepared to practice shorthanded at quarterback for a second time on Monday, coach Mike Zimmer doubled down on his critique of unvaccinated players and offered a simple summation of the risk to the Vikings: "I just feel like we're going to have guys miss games."

The Vikings signed Case Cookus on Monday after a workout that also included Jackson Erdmann and Cole McDonald. Adding Cookus to the roster gave the team two quarterbacks for Monday's practice, and the team claimed quarterback Danny Etling on waivers from Seattle late Monday afternoon.

But with Kirk Cousins, Kellen Mond and Nate Stanley on the COVID-19 reserve list, and Cousins expected to be out until Thursday as a high-risk close contact, Zimmer made his frustration with the situation even clearer.

"I just don't understand. I just don't understand," Zimmer said. "I think we could put this thing to bed if we all do this [get vaccinated]. But it is what it is."

Jake Browning was the only quarterback available for the Vikings' Saturday night practice after Mond reportedly tested positive for COVID-19. But because Browning is vaccinated, he was still able to practice under league protocol even though he would have attended the same QB meetings with Mond, Cousins and Stanley.

Instead, Cousins and Stanley were placed on the COVID-19 reserve list, which is for players who either test positive or were a close contact with someone who did. Vaccinated players are not placed on the list unless they test positive.

When asked Monday if he planned to talk individually to unvaccinated players, Zimmer said again he's talked to the Vikings' roster as a whole about vaccinations.

"Like I said before, there are quite a few guys that are just against it," he said. "I'm not going to be able to change their mind, so, it's like half the country, I guess."

While the issue has affected the Vikings in training camp, it's also provided a cautionary tale, in Zimmer's mind, for what could happen if an unvaccinated player is put into COVID protocol the night before a big game.

Asked how he would feel if he lost his starting quarterback before a pivotal game, Zimmer said, "Probably won't be happy we lost the game, first, and I probably won't be happy we could've prevented this. Like I said, these guys, some of them just won't do it. I shouldn't say it, but some of the things they read [are] just ... out there.

"It's their beliefs, so — I don't know if it's misinformation. It's their belief, so whatever they've heard or read or been told. Not from — maybe they don't believe what Dr. Sills [Allen Sills, the league's chief medical officer] and the NFL is telling them, either."

On Saturday night, the Vikings cut Browning's workload during warmups, as offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak and quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko threw spirals to receivers while Browning prepared for a busy night.

Though he created some highlights with deep throws to Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen and got doused with water by players at the end of the night, Browning gave himself mixed reviews on Monday, saying he's had better practices than the one he delivered in front of more than 4,800 fans during the Vikings' annual night practice.

"I felt like I missed some stuff that I usually don't miss," he said. "It's just a bigger sample size and there's more of a spotlight because of the situation."

His own decision to get vaccinated, Browning said, was a "personal choice, and now everybody knows that personal choice. It is what it is. I'm not looking to get in the middle of all those different conversations. It's kind of hectic."

The third-year quarterback told Zimmer not to cut any of his practice snaps, though, and he could be the beneficiary of more first-team work this week. The only snaps he didn't take on Saturday night were a handful of Wildcat plays where Dalvin Cook took the ball from center Garrett Bradbury.

"When you're a backup, those reps are really valuable, so I wanted to take every single one," Browning said.

For Zimmer, the Wildcat snaps were another harbinger of what could happen if the virus put players in the league's COVID-19 protocol during the season.

"I told them we had to line up that way a few times, because hey, maybe this happens during the year," Zimmer said. "I also told the receivers they're probably not catching many balls that day, either."