Vikings Activate 2 Off IR, Designate Playmaker For Return

Irv Smith Jr., Vikings

Getty TE Irv Smith Jr. of the Minnesota Vikings celebrates scoring a touchdown in the first quarter against the Detroit Lions at U.S. Bank Stadium on November 08, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)

The Minnesota Vikings‘ roster is getting stronger at the perfect time, as the team brought back two players from the injured reserve list (IR) on Wednesday.

The team announced that as of December 28, it had activated both tight end Irv Smith Jr. and running back Ty Chandler. Kevin Seifert of ESPN reported the news Wednesday afternoon.

“The Vikings opened the 21-day practice window today for TE Irv Smith Jr. (ankle), who hasn’t played since Week 8,” Seifert tweeted. “Coach Kevin O’Connell has been expressing optimism ever since that Smith could be available before the end of the season. Also, RB Ty Chandler was activated from IR.”

Minnesota had a Wednesday deadline to elevate Chandler, its fourth-string running back, to active status or designate him to the IR for the remainder of the season. However, the bigger news is Smith’s return, potentially as soon as the Vikings’ high-stakes matchup with the Green Bay Packers this weekend.

Vikings Plan to Use Smith Alongside New Tight End T.J. Hockenson

Kevin O'Connell, Vikings

GettyHead coach Kevin O’Connell of the Minnesota Vikings looks on before a game against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium on October 16, 2022 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

The optimism on the part of O’Connell in regards to Smith’s return surrounds how the former Super Bowl-winning coordinator can deploy him alongside the recently acquired T.J. Hockenson in double tight end sets.

“You know, I think we will [have them on the field together],” O’Connell told reporters three weeks ago. “I just think that gives you some personnel grouping flexibility. … You can line up a lot of different ways regardless of who’s in the game. The versatility of being able to play the game a lot of different ways is something that we’re doing currently, but hopefully when we can get Irv back [we can do even more].”

Smith pulled down 22 catches for 168 yards and two touchdowns before going down with the ankle injury in Week 8 against the Arizona Cardinals. He caught a career high five touchdowns in 2021, per Pro Football Reference.

Top 3 Seeds in NFC All Remain in Play For Vikings With 2 Games Left

Irv Smith, Vikings

GettyTE Irv Smith Jr. (left) of the Minnesota Vikings celebrates with WR Justin Jefferson (middle) and WR Adam Thielen (right) after scoring a touchdown against the Detroit Lions at U.S. Bank Stadium on November 8, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

If Smith is able to go this weekend, he will be one more weapon at the Vikings’ disposal in what has become a crucial New Year’s Day matchup against the Packers at Lambeau Field.

While Green Bay (7-8) is fighting for its playoff life and must win out to have a chance at the postseason, Minnesota (12-3) is playing for positioning. The Vikings currently occupy the No. 2 spot in the NFC, one game behind the Philadelphia Eagles (13-2) and one game ahead of the San Francisco 49ers (11-4).

Both of those teams own the tiebreaker over the Vikings, making winning out nearly as important for Minnesota as it is for Green Bay. The top seed in the conference gets the sole bye in the seven-team playoff format, while the second seed is guaranteed two home games, assuming that team wins its first contest on Wildcard Weekend.

Because of their 11 one-score wins this season, the Vikings are liable to be the underdogs if they meet either the Eagles or the Niners in the postseason. However, those odds will increase substantially should the game(s) be played in Minneapolis.

As of Wednesday night, Minnesota remained a three-point underdog for Sunday’s road contest in Green Bay.

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