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Custom Danielle Hunter Jersey Large

MINNEAPOLIS — Danielle Hunter’s legacy had been crescendoing into elite territory long before the Vikings’ defensive end became the youngest player in NFL history to record 50 career sacks.

Hunter, who was 25 years and 40 days old on Sunday, reached the milestone on the third play of Minnesota’s 20-7 win over the Detroit Lions when he dropped rookie backup quarterback David Blough for a 6-yard loss. The former third-round pick surpassed the record previously set by Robert Quinn, who reached his 50th sack at the age of 25 years and 167 days.

“Danielle is a beast,” Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks said. “I’m proud of that guy, which is why I had to embellish on that. He works hard and knows his skill set. He is truly a team player and really cares about the next guy, so it’s no surprise he’s having the success he’s having.”

The defensive end, who was drafted by Minnesota out of LSU in 2015, recorded two additional sacks Sunday. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, the Vikings’ defense pressured Blough on just 11 of his 45 dropbacks (24%), their fourth-lowest rate of the season. But they made their pass-rushing efforts count as Blough was 0-of-6 with an interception and five sacks on those plays.

Hunter now has 12.5 sacks in 13 games (ranked fourth) and leads all NFL defenders in total pressures. The 25-year-old is the third Viking to record 50 sacks in his first five seasons with the team, joining Jared Allen (74) and Keith Millard (53).

Perhaps the easiest of Hunter’s three sacks in Week 14 was his first, when the defensive end was isolated one-on-one with Lions tight end Jesse James. Those types of mismatches, Hunter says, have occurred often this year and give him extra motivation to win the matchup because, “he’s not a tackle, he’s more of [a pass-catcher] so when you go out there and get a one-on-one with a tight end, you just try to beat him quickly.”

“Most of these teams don’t want to get blitzed,” coach Mike Zimmer said of those matchups. “So that’s their way to help, help in protection and things like that. So, you know, pick your poison.”

In five seasons with the Vikings, Hunter has amassed 52.5 sacks. Earlier this season, the DE earned the recognition of having the most career sacks by age 25 with 48, setting that mark in October when he brought down quarterbacks five times in a four-game stretch.

Still in the infancy of his career, Hunter is regarded as one of the most explosive pass-rushers in the NFL. Yet Hunter refuses to let himself think about where his ceiling is currently and how much further he has to go.

“No, I only think about the ‘now’ moment,” Hunter said. “I think about what I need to do now to help my team in order to win games and in order to put my teammates in position to make plays.”

Hunter was quick to bestow credit on his teammates for setting himself up for a monster day against the Lions. He now has 11.0 career sacks against Detroit, which is more than any other opponent in his career.

“Sometimes they’ll have a chipper on the other side or a chipper on my side,” Hunter said. “If Griff’s [Everson Griffen] hot, they’ll set the chipper up on his side and then it’ll leave [a] one-on-one on the left side of the line, over the middle of the line and all that. It all comes back down to the DBs and the linebackers whenever they cover their guys and have the quarterback hold the ball.”

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Custom Eric Kendricks Jersey Large

We’ve gotten the second injury report of the week for the Minnesota Vikings as they prepare for their Wild Card weekend matchup against the New Orleans Saints at the Superdome, and it’s a bit of a mixed bag.

We’ll go through it here in a bit, but for now here is the full report from today’s session:

Did Not Practice
CB Mackensie Alexander (knee)
S Andrew Sendejo (illness)
DE Stephen Weatherly (illness)
Limited Participation
CB Mike Hughes (neck, downgrade from full)
LB Eric Kendricks (quad, upgrade from DNP)
DE Ifeadi Odenigbo (hamstring)
Full Participation
RB Dalvin Cook (shoulder)
S Jayron Kearse (foot)
RB Alexander Mattison (ankle)
CB Xavier Rhodes (ankle)
DT Shamar Stephen (knee)
A couple of big stories from this one, both involving guys who were limited in practice on Thursday.

The first one is that linebacker Eric Kendricks practiced for the first time since the lead-up to the Green Bay game on Thursday, as he took part in some individual drills. We’ll have to see if he continues to progress on Friday when the final report comes out.

Mike Hughes, on the other hand, was downgraded to limited after being a full participant on Wednesday. Hughes is dealing with a neck injury, and I’m not sure when he suffered that injury, exactly. With Mackensie Alexander continuing to sit out of practice with a knee issue and now Hughes dealing with this, the Vikings’ cornerback group suddenly looks even more suspect.

On the bright side, it doesn’t appear that the illness that Sendejo and Weatherly are dealing with has spread. . .yet.

(knocks firmly on nearest wooden object)

That’s your injury report for Thursday, folks. We’ll have the final injury report here for your perusal at around this time tomorrow.

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Custom Aviante Collins Jersey Large

EAGAN, Minn. – It’s never ideal to have key pieces of your roster sidelined, but the Vikings always have a plan in place.

The Vikings announced that Adam Thielen, who suffered a hamstring injury in Week 7 during 2019’s first meeting between the Vikings and Lions, is doubtful for Sunday’s matchup.

Two other starters – left tackle Riley Reiff and running back Dalvin Cook – left Monday night’s game with injuries. Reiff (concussion) is designated as questionable; Cook, who has maintained confidence throughout the week that he will play Sunday, did not receive a status and should be good to go.

But regardless of who’s in the lineup come Sunday at noon, the Vikings coaching staff will be ready with a game plan.

Vikings Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski spoke with Twin Cities media members on Thursday and explained the approach.

“You always sit there on Monday and Tuesday, and you’re working with the training staff on who they think might be available, so you’re putting a plan together and you have a, ‘If this guy is ready, we’ll do it out of this formation, and if he’s not, it’ll be this formation,’ ” Stefanski said. “So, it’s certainly something that we’re talking about throughout the week, and even on game day you have to have those conversations.

“Luckily, I have a really good coaching staff that can help me through that and say, ‘All right, hey, we’ve lost this guy, now we’re out of that personnel group. Now the next time you want to do that, let’s do it out of this personnel group,’ ” he added.

If Reiff isn’t able to play this weekend, tackle Rashod Hill would get the nod in his place.

Since the Vikings signed him off the Jaguars practice squad in 2016, Hill has played in 39 games for Minnesota and made 15 starts.

Stefanski highlighted Hill’s versatility as a swing tackle who prepares throughout the season to step in on the right or left side, depending on where he’s needed.

“You saw in that game [against the Seahawks] he came in, and I thought he performed pretty well,” Stefanski said of Hill. “Riley’s a captain of this team, [and we] certainly want him out there. If he’s not available to go, that’s why you have backups that are on point like Rashod, like he showed this last week.

“Rashod is certainly a guy that we’ve leaned on,” Stefanski added. “He’s come in during a game before. He’s come in during the week. He’s really taken the bit as being a player that is always ready to go.”

Injury Report

The Vikings on Friday announced that Thielen (hamstring) is doubtful, and Reiff (concussion) is questionable.

DT Linval Joseph (knee), RB Dalvin Cook (chest), DE Everson Griffen (knee), DT Shamar Stephen, LB Eric Wilson (shoulder) and S Harrison Smith (hamstring) were not given a status on Friday’s report and are likely ready to go.

The Lions ruled out DL Da’Shawn Hand (ankle) and QB Matthew Stafford (hip/back).

DE Austin Bryan (hip) is doubtful, and CBs Jamal Agnew and Rashaan Melvin are each questionable.

DT Damon Harrison, Sr., (calf/knee/resting vet) and P Sam Martin (abdomen) did not receive a status and likely will play on Sunday.

Fan Mail

How is our practice squad doing? Anybody there “coming on”? In particular, offensive linemen?

– Gary

The Vikings currently have just one offensive lineman on the practice squad in center John Keenoy. He was with the team in training camp but came back last month. Aviante Collins had been on the practice squad for most of the season, but he was recently elevated to the 53-man roster.

Some names to keep an eye on might be tight end Brandon Dillon, who originally made the 53-man roster out of camp, and defensive end Stacy Keely, who could show growth next year in OTAs and training camp.

Thanks for the support, and SKOL!

Quotable

“This is just about the next game. It’s about getting back on track. Stacking good play together and building some momentum leading into that potential playoff run. The only thing we’re trying to do is get a ticket to the dance; once we get in, it’s anyone’s game. It’s about whatever team shows up to play on that given Saturday, Sunday, Monday – I don’t even care what day it is. The only thing we want is a ticket in, and then we’re going to take care of business.”

– DE Stephen Weatherly on if there’s a “higher sense of urgency” this week

Last chance! Vote to help make sure all your favorite Vikings make the 2020 Pro Bowl in Orlando. Voting ends Dec. 12, 2019.

Cook and Company could play a key role for the Vikings on Sunday.

Minnesota is 6-1 when gaining at least 150 net yards rushing.

Against Detroit in Week 7, the Vikings racked up 166 yards on the ground. Dalvin Cook led the way with 25 carries for 142 yards and two touchdowns. If he in any way has a limited workload, however, the Vikings have equal confidence in rookie running back Alexander Mattison, Ameer Abdullah and Mike Boone.

“I think you saw at the end of this last ballgame we didn’t have Dalvin. and we’re in a two-minute throwing session and not much changes,” Stefanski said. “We look at it as our backups know the game plan cold, and they’re ready to go. Are they the same player as a Dalvin Cook? No. We understand that, but we’re not going to limit ourselves and what we can do without any one of our players.”

Broadcast Info

TV BROADCAST

FOX (KMSP in the Twin Cities)

Play-by-Play: Thom Brennaman

Analyst: Chris Spielman

Sideline Reporter: Shannon Spake

LOCAL RADIO

KFAN (100.3-FM/KTLK 1130-AM in Minneapolis/St. Paul)

Play-by-Play: Paul Allen

Analyst: Pete Bercich

Sideline Reporters: Greg Coleman & Ben Leber

Radio Pre-game Show: Mike Mussman | 10 a.m. (CT)

KFAN and KTLK serve as the flagship stations for the five-state Vikings Radio Network.

SATELLITE RADIO

Sirius: DEN 133 or Streaming 809; MIN 81 or Streaming 819

XM: DEN Streaming 809; MIN 225 or Streaming 819

ADDITIONAL OPTIONS

Click here for the full bevy of options that include over-the-air, cable, satellite, over-the-top and streaming methods.

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Custom Pat Elflein Jersey Large

Vikings guard Pat Elflein is in his third NFL season but first under Minnesota’s current offensive coaching staff.

Elflein believes this new system best-fits Minnesota’s roster and gives its offensive playmakers a chance to shine.

The Vikings enter tonight’s game ranked fourth in rushing yards per game (135.9), second in passing yards per play (8.03) and fourth in interception rate (1.21).

“It lets Dalvin [Cook] get the ball in his hands and pretty much run the ball where he wants to. It lets Kirk [Cousins] get out in space a little bit and take some shots, and it allows us linemen to run block … to really attack some defenses with the run game,” Elflein said. “I feel like we’re on the attack.”

Asked what makes the Vikings offensive line group special, Elflein pointed to the coaches, as well as veteran left tackle Riley Reiff.

“Riley is our leader; I think it starts there – really having a blue-collar work mentality,” he said. “Every time we come to practice or come to the weight room or go to meetings, we’re locked in, and we’re about our business. But we also have a lot of fun together, too. I feel like we have a good balance of both.”

Added Elflein: “We take pride in that.”

elflein-feature-3-2506
We caught up with Pat to chat about pounding the beef, spreading holiday cheer and – of course – mullets.

Q: Dalvin Cook is headed to his first Pro Bowl; how much pride do you take in that?

A: “We’re so happy that Dalvin made the Pro Bowl. From where he’s been … through injuries and a lot of things he’s had to deal with, for him to come back from that and make the Pro Bowl, it’s a testament to what type of person he is, what type of player, his resiliency, and just the flat-out talent he has. With and without the football, he’s an incredible player. We’re happy for him, and I know he’s definitely earned it.”

Q: How fun is it when he gives the football to a lineman to spike after he scores?

A: “It’s awesome. Dalvin’s sharing the love. He’s scoring touchdowns, getting all that, and for him to give the ball to us to have a little fun with it, too, it just makes it fun. Something to look forward to, an opportunity to let a little personality show. And it’s a bonding moment, too; we all get excited for each other when we score and get to do something like that.”

Q: Has there been a top spike this season?

A: “Yeah – all of mine.”

efllein-feature-5-2560
Q: ‘Pound the Beef’ has become a popular phrase – tell me about that.

A: “Basically, it just means pounding the rock, running the football. It just kind of evolved into what we do on Sundays when we’re able to run the ball and really impose our will. Pound the beef. Pound the rock.”

Q: And even Kirk gets in on it sometimes, right?

A: “Yeah. Sometimes he’ll carry it, and he’ll pound some beef, too. We’ll let him know he’s poundin’. Oh yeah.”

Q: Christmas is soon; what’s the best Christmas gift you’ve gotten?

A: “It had to be when I was a kid, and my mom got us an X-box; I was pretty pumped about that.”

Q: Your last name is a fun one around the holidays; how fun was the Elf Line video last year?

A: “And we did one at the mall recently, too. Gettin’ in the Christmas spirit is fun and something that I’ve always done, and as an O-line, we like to get into the Christmas spirit. I have the last name that kind of goes along with it, so anytime I get to play along with that and spread some Christmas cheer, I’m all about it. It’s fun.”

Q: Which is more fun? Dressing up as an elf or as Mario for the Kids Club Halloween party?

A: “Those were both pretty good. When I was Mario, [right tackle] Brian O’Neill was Luigi, so it was fun to kind of tag-team that one. But, we actually dressed up as elves together, too, at the mall. Dressing up as elves is pretty fun – everyone gets a kick out of that for the holidays.”

Q: In all seriousness, why is a positive presence in the community important to you?

A: “It’s an awesome community. As Vikings players, we feel the utmost support from the fans all season, even in the offseason. The city, the fans, the people here have our back – and it shows on game day. So … to make someone’s day, to make someone’s holiday, whatever we can do to do that, we love it. We love giving back. We did the Halloween party, we did the Thanksgiving turkey giveaway, we were spreading Christmas cheer at the mall. Anytime we get a chance to do that, we always take advantage.”

pat-elflein-1-2560

Q: Tell me a little about the facial hair you have going on here.

A: “Oh, the ’stache? It’s just kind of grown into a style that I’ve been embracing this year. I don’t really know where it came from, but I’m just rocking this mustache right now, and I feel like I can’t shave it. I just can’t do it right now. I like to get cleaned up, too, get a nice haircut and be clean-shaven – but right now, I just can’t. I’m wearing this mustache until the time is right.”

Q: Brian O’Neill told me to ask you about the mullet, too.

A: “Oh, yeah, I’ve got a mullet going, too, trying to grow the back out. I’ve always been a fan of Joe Dirt, and then the Kurt Dirt thing kind of came around, and I was just like, ‘I’m growing a mullet.’ So that’s what I’ve been doing.”

Q: Do you think you’ll get to keep it for your wedding in April?

A: “Not a chance. There’s a zero-percent chance of keeping it for the wedding. It’ll be fun while it lasts.”

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Custom Ifeadi Odenigbo Jersey Large

CARSON, Calif. — Of all the teams to root for growing up, Ifeadi Odenigbo was a Chargers fan because he liked Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson and longtime quarterback Philip Rivers.

The Vikings defensive end played his first game against his childhood team Sunday and delivered the highlight of a lifetime when he scored on a game-changing, 56-yard fumble return at the end of the first half.

“It was pretty cool. That was my first-ever career touchdown,” Odenigbo said. “Never got one in high school. Never got one in college. Being able to get one in L.A. is pretty neat.”

Minnesota led 12-10 at the time of the touchdown. By the time Odenigbo crossed the goal line with just seven seconds left in the second quarter, the Vikings had put their stamp on the game.

“That was a big play. He hustles all the time, so that was great for us,” Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said of Odenigbo. “The game was kind of going back and forth at that point, so for us to get that right before the half was really big.”

Multiple Vikings had a hand in the play, beginning with Danielle Hunter.

The defensive end breezed past Chargers running back Austin Ekeler, who attempted to chip him, before powering through right tackle Sam Tevi and knocking the ball out of Rivers’ hand.

“I didn’t even notice the chipper,” the 6-foot-5 Hunter said of the 5-10 Ekeler. “I was locked in on the tackle. We knew [Rivers] was going to try to get the ball out quick so we went with our quickest rush.

“I went to power to make him hold the ball. I reached for the ball and the rest happened,” Hunter said.

The Chargers began the play with the ball at the Vikings 26-yard line. But by the time Hunter knocked it away, the pigskin had rolled back to the Vikings 40.

Ekeler raced back to corral it, only to be brought down by linebacker Eric Kendricks, who kept the play alive by knocking the ball away.

“I was a tackler on that play,” Kendricks said. “I was kind of on the sideline, so I knew he was going to jump and get the ball. I held him by the waist.”

Kendricks wasn’t credited with a forced fumble on the play … much to his chagrin.

“It wasn’t? I feel like he had possession,” Kendricks said. “I waited until he picked it up and then knocked it out.”

Odenigbo, who has missed a chance to get the ball immediately after the fumble, then pounced on the ball at the Vikings 44.

“I saw the ball there and I thought, ‘Alright, I get a second chance.’ I was fortunate enough to pick up the ball,” Odenigbo said.

Hunter’s force had started the play, and now his speed was about to extend it, as he raced downfield and threw a block on left tackle Russell Okung at the Chargers 35.

“I knew there was going to be at least one dude in front of him,” Hunter said. “I saw the dude and ran with all my might to block him. I knew if we blocked him, then Ifeadi would be able to score.”

Postgame Celebration Photos From Sunday’s Win Over The Chargers
View postgame celebration images that followed the Vikings win over the Chargers.

The defensive end had thwarted both Chargers offensive tackles on the play … and now Odenigbo was home free.

“I didn’t even realize that,” Hunter said of beating both Tevi and Okung. “I’m glad that happened … I’m happy for [Odenigbo].

“It was his first touchdown,” Hunter said. “When we play together, things like that happen.”

Odenigbo then cruised into the end zone, one of four fumble recoveries and seven total takeaways by the Vikings defense on Sunday.

“I saw Danielle put in an excellent block. I was fortunate to score the touchdown but it was good, complementary football,” Odenigbo said. “Coach Zimmer always harps on pursuit and effort, and that was quite the effort from Danielle and EK.”

The Vikings went into the half up 19-10 after Odenigbo’s massive score. They then dominated in the second half as they outscored the Chargers by a 20-0 margin.

But if you’re looking for a turning point in Sunday’s game, it came when Hunter knocked the ball loose, Kendricks kept the play alive, Odenigbo picked up the rock, Hunter threw a block and Odenigbo coasted right into the end zone.

Said Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins: “Ifeadi’s touchdown at the end of the half was the play of the game.”

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Custom Stephen Weatherly Jersey Large

A tennis ball flies through the air, followed closely behind by two streaks of white fur.

Gravel sprays from beneath their dogs’ paws as they race each other across the fenced-in play area.

A first glance might lead one to believe that the pups share a bloodline, but a closer look reveals distinct differences between the two.

There’s Orion, a Siberian Husky who struts a sleek build and has silvery-blue eyes and a majestic, curled tail.

Atlas, meanwhile, has dark brown eyes, the tell-tail (pun intended) backend of a German Shepherd and large ears that stand at attention.

Vikings defensive end Stephen Weatherly got both as puppies in Nashville, Tennessee, and chose their names based on his love for Greek mythology.

“Orion was first. I really liked the name; I used it in a project that I had in college for a line of mineral water,” Weatherly explained with a chuckle. “And then Atlas, same thing, Greek mythology.”

Purple Pups Photos: Stephen, Atlas & Orion Weatherly
View photos of Vikings DT Stephen Weatherly and his dogs Atlas and Orion who are featured in this segment of Purple Pups.

At the time of this interview, Weatherly had his eye on a white cat at a nearby shelter. Although it didn’t end up working out to adopt the feline, he already had a name picked out: Adonis. For the “trifecta,” he explained.

Maybe someday.

Weatherly points out that while their variances in appearance may be subtle, the contrast in personalities is much starker.

Orion loves to be the center of attention and shows off a craftier demeanor, according to his owner.

“He’s very mischievous, and he does things on purpose. He knows how to open doors,” Weatherly said. “He doesn’t get into anything unless he feels like he’s being disrespected. He’s very much that kind of guy.”

Weatherly first noticed Orion’s “evil-genius side” early on when he realized the puppy was feigning an injury.

“He would fake limps on walks so he wouldn’t have to walk anymore,” Weatherly laughed. “I thought I had hurt him because he was like 12 weeks and wouldn’t walk and started limping, and I’m like, ‘Oh my [gosh], I’ve over-walked him. This is a problem.’

“So I pick him up, I run inside … and poured some food into his bowl, hoping he would feel a little bit better, and he sprinted over to the bowl like everything was fine,” Weatherly continued. “So that was his M.O. Also when he was younger, if you ever [scolded] him and flicked your finger at him, not hitting him, but just flick your finger at him, he would immediately start wincing, like winking one eye like you blinded him, so that was also his way to get pity.”

And as for Atlas?

The younger dog is called “a big dummy” by Weatherly.

“But I love him for it,” the defensive end said. “He’s training to be a lap dog; he doesn’t understand personal space at all. He’ll crawl on the bed, he begs, drops his ears. He tries to get as small as possible, which is hilarious because he’s 85 pounds.

“But yeah, this is the evil genius right here, Orion, and Atlas is [his sidekick],” Weatherly added. “Do you remember Pinky and the Brain? Yeah, that’s Pinky, and this is the Brain.”

Both have learned various tricks – they will sit, lie down, shake and stand on their back legs on command – but only Orion takes after his “dad” in the athletic category.

“Atlas can’t catch unless you throw it directly at him,” Weatherly quipped, patting the German Shepherd on the head. “And then still it’s, like, 50-50.”

Continuing to compare the pair of pups, he pointed out that Orion is independent and “only loves me because he knows I control the food.” He explained that while Orion tends to toe the line and require more discipline, Atlas is truly a man’s best friend.

“German Shepherds, just love them unconditionally, and then they’ll love you back,” Weatherly said. “Atlas is a big, loveable protector.”

He recalled an experience in which he and his then-roommate, Vikings running back Ameer Abdullah, were rough-housing.

“Ameer and I were wrestling, and Atlas thought his father was being beat – which I was,” Weatherly admitted. “And Atlas jumped in and kind of nibbled on Ameer.”

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Interference.

“Nibbled? Nibbled?” Abdullah interjected good-naturedly.

“He gave him a love nip right behind his shoulder,” Weatherly countered.

“I’m probably going to get an infection, I don’t know,” Abdullah said. “And they shed, as you can see.”

He laughed and then added, “No, I love these dogs. They’re great dogs.”

Weatherly concurs.

Although he’s an animal lover in general – he’s been known to babysit turtles, Gnevieve and Gretchen, and enjoys his roommate’s bunny, Benny – he will always be the biggest fan of dogs.

“I had a dog growing up, and being an only child, I feel like that was like my brother in some regards,” Weatherly explained. “I’ve always just loved them. They’re always there. [Whether] I had a great day at practice or a horrible day at practice, they don’t know which one is which. They just love me the same.

“I always tell people that dogs are the only creatures capable of unconditional love,” he added.

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Custom Stefon Diggs Jersey Large

A winning day for students at Early Childhood Academy Public Charter School in Southeast.

“Everybody is getting coats that have been paid for,” said 7-year-old Trenton Lemons.

Look who’s at Early Childhood Academy Public Charter School in SE today! @Vikings player and Gaithersburg native Stefon Diggs is here giving out coats with @OperationWarm . His message to students tonight at 5.

“We thank Stefon Diggs because he gave us coats,” said second grader Jaiden Barrera.

The Minnesota Vikings wide receiver flew back to his hometown to distribute coats to children in need.

“Trying to take that load off of parents who might not have it or who might have it, still just want a little assistance. You know, I just try to do my part,” he said.

A winning day at Early Childhood Academy PCS in SE. “Everybody is getting coats!” said 7-year-old Trenton Lemons. “We thank @stefondiggs because he gave us coats,” said Jaiden Barrera. See the @Vikings player back in his hometown giving out coats & kindness tonight at 4.

More than 70-percent of students at the school are considered at risk and 100-percent qualify for free and reduced lunch.

“We’ve now made it a point to go into underserved areas, underserved schools primarily, and provide coats to these kids in need,” said Chefik Simo of Operation Warm.

The non-profit organization provided nearly 300 coats and the former University of Maryland player helped give them out.

That’s very good especially for people who are cold-natured like me,” said Lemons.

“Yes. So we won’t be sick and it’s cold outside,” said Barrera.

Diggs received sincere gratitude from students and offered them words of encouragement.

“Make sure that you are doing your homework so you can do well in school. I talked to somebody earlier and they said practice makes perfect, can everybody agree with that?”

His audience was in full agreement; happy to receive advice and assistance from a hometown hero.

Diggs lived in Waldorf, Laurel and Gaithersburg before playing football at Maryland and being drafted by the Vikings in 2015.

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Custom Trae Waynes Jersey Large

After forging a friendship in middle school in Kenosha, Wisc., Trae Waynes and Melvin Gordon have been on the same career trajectory.

Both played college ball in the Big Ten.

Both were drafted in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft.

Both are playing out their fifth professional seasons before hitting unrestricted free agency in March.

Heck, both belong to franchises that have changed stadiums in the last five years.

But when Waynes and Gordon get together — sometimes for an offseason fishing trip on Lake Minnetonka or back home in Wisconsin to host an annual football camp — the talks rarely focus on the sport that’s given them so much common ground over the past 15 years.

“We don’t really talk about too much football when we talk,” Waynes told Zone Coverage. “We’ve been friends for a long time. It goes beyond football. When we talk it’s more about just, ‘Hey, how you doing?’ We’re [BSing], we ain’t really talking so much about football and reminiscing.”

While football may not be the crux of their conversations nowadays, it was certainly the source of their friendship.

“When we met, we were both — I don’t really want to say underdogs — but overlooked,” Waynes said. “We met in middle school and we were both playing football and stuff, and I remember vividly, one of the things him telling me is, ‘No one thinks I can play running back. No one believes I can play running back.’ My thing was like, ‘Well s—, everybody thinks I’m too small.’

“So we both kind of had that adversity starting out while playing football because he was newer to the scene and nobody believed in what he could really do. And on my end, nobody thought I could do it because I was small, so we had that connection. We both had the same goals to make it to where we wanted to be in life.”

Getting selected within the first 15 picks of the 2015 draft put to rest many of those doubts. It’s believable, though, that Waynes would happily remind Gordon he was taken four picks higher.

Videos showing the two of them before the draft reveal their constant banter — sometimes exchanging barbs over who would win if Gordon was carrying the ball into Waynes’ space on the football field.

Three weeks into their NFL careers, that scenario had a chance to play out when the Chargers came to play the Vikings at TCF Bank Stadium. Xavier Rhodes went down with an injury in the first half, opening the door for Waynes’ first career appearance on defense. He played 41 snaps that game, but Gordon never ran the ball his way. Minnesota handled San Diego 31-14.

Sunday’s tilt in Los Angeles is their first regular season meeting since. In the time that’s passed, Waynes has become a full-time starter, Gordon a 1,000-yard rusher.

The meeting could be Gordon and Waynes’ last on their present teams. Both are likely to seek high-end salaries at their respective positions, while their franchises face difficult decisions. The cap-strapped Vikings have two other unrestricted free agents in the secondary between Anthony Harris and Mackensie Alexander, while the Chargers will have to weigh Gordon’s production against the more affordable Austin Ekeler’s.

It’s undetermined whether the two friends will rendezvous Saturday night once the Vikings arrive in Los Angeles.

“L.A. traffic is terrible,” said Waynes.

THIELEN RETURNS
After missing all or part of seven consecutive games, injured wide receiver Adam Thielen appears set for a return on Sunday. After sitting out of practice all of the previous week, Thielen was a participant each of the last three days and did not receive an injury designation despite being listed as limited in practice.

The Vikings went 5-2 in the seven games affected by Thielen’s injury, the first time in his career Minnesota’s star receiver has missed significant playing time.

“I’ve learned a lot from the process,” Thielen said Thursday. “I think for me the main thing has just been focusing on every day, trying to do what I have to do to get back on the field and be out there with my teammates and helping them win games. In the meantime when I couldn’t play, just try to do whatever I could to help out the young guys or to be any type of resource for anybody. I don’t know if I did a great job, but I was trying my best every day. Like I said, I’ve learned a lot from the process, and it definitely will help me moving forward.”

While sidelined, Thielen has gotten a chance to watch Stefon Diggs become the passing game’s focal point despite receiving extra attention from secondaries. Diggs is three yards shy of his second straight 1,000-yard season.

“Probably the best I’ve ever seen him play,” said Thielen. “Just his mentality, the way that he’s handled himself, I thought, as he’s grown a lot as a player, and I think he’s just playing at a high level right now. And you see that he’s getting a lot of coverage and a lot of looks and a lot of attention, obviously, and he’s still able to get open and make plays and things like that.”

In other injury news, safety Jayron Kearse (toe) and running back Alexander Mattison (ankle) were ruled out of Sunday’s game. Head coach Mike Zimmer said that Mike Boone will replace Mattison as the backup to Dalvin Cook.

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Custom Anthony Barr Jersey Large

When the Vikings made a roster move in October that led to a locker being open next to the one for linebacker Anthony Barr, rookie cornerback Kris Boyd swooped in and claimed it.

So, for the past two months, Boyd and Barr have been at adjacent lockers at the TCO Performance Center. The rookie said he learns something just about every day from the four-time Pro Bowl selection.

“I see him as a big brother to me,’’ Boyd said. “He kind of took me in when I got here.’’

Barr is in his sixth season with the Vikings and second as one of six team captains. Since becoming a captain last year, the soft-spoken Barr has sought to be even more of a leader.

After Boyd, 23, was selected in the seventh round of the draft out of Texas in April, he got to know Barr. The linebacker saw something in him.

“His personality is just kind of contagious,’’ said Barr, 27. “He’s got a very positive spirit, a positive vibe. He keeps things entertaining. It’s good to have a younger perspective around some older guys. He keeps things fresh and funky for us.’’

Barr certainly has a soft spot for Boyd. When he learned that Boyd had somehow been left out of receiving a present in a Christmas gift-giving exchange in the Vikings locker room, Barr stepped up and surprised him with a nifty Louis Vuitton bag.

“He was a little hurt on Christmas because I guess he didn’t get a gift, so I felt bad for him,’’ Barr said.

Barr also invited the rookie to join him at linebacker Eric Kendricks’ home on Christmas. Several other veterans also were there.

“It was really cool,’’ Boyd said of Barr presenting him with the Louis Vuitton bag. “I have it posted on Instagram.’’

Boyd has played mostly on special teams this season and has been very effective as a gunner on the punt team. He’s played just 47 snaps on defense, but could be in for more work Sunday when the Vikings (10-5), locked into the No. 6 NFC spot, face Chicago (7-8) at U.S. Bank Stadium a regular-season finale with no playoff implications.

Early in the season, when Boyd wasn’t playing much, Barr talked to him about not getting down.

“I was just trying to keep him calm, understand you know your time is going to come,’’ Barr said. “I told him that you’re a guy who’s going to have a long career in this league and just be patient and enjoy the process.’’

Boyd appreciates the advice he has gotten from Barr. That’s why when a locker opened next to Barr’s in October, he moved from across the room.

“He actually told me not to move, but he was just joking,’’ Boyd said. “We just have a connection. Now that I’m next to him, we chop it up every day.

“If I ever have any questions, he’ll give me tips and information. He’s always telling me to keep my head up and always stay ready.’’

Sunday’s game could provide a good opportunity for Boyd. He anticipates getting some snaps on defense.

“That’s how it’s looking right now,’’ he said. “It would be cool.’’

The Vikings like Boyd’s potential. Defensive coordinator George Edwards said he has continued to get better in practice throughout the season.

“Kris has a lot of speed,’’ Edwards said. “He can get in and out of a cut. The big thing is that schematically, I think this is his first time through.’’

Special teams coordinator Marwan Maalouf likes the aggressiveness Boyd has shown on special teams. He leads the unit in tackles.

On Dec. 8, Boyd had a big hit on Detroit’s Danny Amendola on a punt return. Barr was impressed with that play.

“I know the capability he has of being a good player in this league and just want to see him do well,’’ Barr said. “So I’ve got to stay on him.’’

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The Vikings have released Sunday’s list of inactives before the final game of the season at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Six of the team’s starters will not dress on Sunday as well as rookie running back Alexander Mattison.

Below is the list of Vikings players who will not suit up:

RB Alexander Mattison

RB Dalvin Cook

LB Eric Kendricks

LB Anthony Barr

T Riley Reiff

T Brian O’Neill

DT Shamar Stephen