Following the season-ending injuries of special teams captain Heath Farwell and backup defensive end Willie Mitchell, the Vikings were dealt another tough blow on Monday as the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported free-agent signee Madieu Williams could miss as many as six weeks with a neck injury.
Rookie Tyrell Johnson is expected to replace Williams as the starting safety alongside veteran Darren Sharper.
Johnson was selected in the second round out of Arkansas State as Minnesota's top draft pick this year, after the team traded its first rounder as part of the trade for Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen.
Several scouts and analysts praised the selection of Johnson on draft day, with many saying he—not Miami safety Kenny Phillips, taken 32nd overall—was the best safety in the draft.
Johnson has impressed defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier thus far in training camp, with strong instincts and a tough, physical style.
He played fairly well in the preseason opener vs. Seattle, often showing a good nose for the ball and ending up in the right spot.
While Johnson may contribute with Williams out, the injury is still a big blow.
If he misses as many as six weeks, he would be back no later than Week Three or Four of the regular season.
Missing a couple weeks may not seem so bad, but the Vikings have a tough stretch to start the year.
Minnesota could clearly use Madieu's good coverage skills against the elite offensive players they will see the first few weeks of the season. When the Vikings signed Williams this offseason, Frazier said:
"It just makes us so much better from a coverage standpoint. He'll be a tremendous asset. This is the type of safety you look for in the draft, a guy who can hit but still has coverage ability as well."
Perhaps the team will get some good news, and Wiliams could return by the start of the regular season.
Until he steps back on the field, however, it's on Johnson, Sharper, and starting cornerbacks Antoine Winfield and Cedric Griffin to step their collective games up.
All good teams must overcome injuries.
If the Vikings, a trendy pick to win the NFC North and perhaps make a deep playoff run, expect to succeed this year, some of the younger players must step up.
Tyrell Johnson, it's your time.