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With Akayleb Evans, Andrew Booth battling injuries, Vikings’ cornerback situation uncertain

If neither can play, Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell said Duke Shelley would start Thursday against New England.

Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs (14) straight arms Minnesota Vikings cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. (23) after making a catch Nov. 13, 2022, at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, New York.
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs (14) straight arms Minnesota Vikings cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. (23) after making a catch Nov. 13, 2022, at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, New York. Booth was injured in the Nov. 20 game against Dallas and may not play Thursday against New England.
Gregory Fisher / USA Today Sports
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EAGAN, Minn. -- With rookies Akayleb Evans and Andrew Booth Jr. batting injuries, it’s uncertain who will start at right cornerback for the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday night against New England.

Evans, who was hurt Nov. 13 at Buffalo and sat out last Sunday’s 40-3 loss to Dallas, remains in concussion protocol and was listed as limited Tuesday after a walkthrough practice. And Booth, who was hurt against the Cowboys, missed his second straight workout. If neither can play, Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell said Duke Shelley would start.

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Andrew Booth Jr.

“That protocol is very standard, and it’s very important that we follow it absolutely by the doctors, by the independent folks and by our folks in house here just to make sure health and safety is the number one priority,” OConnell said. “With Booth, he just had some soreness in that knee pop up post game. That can happen from time to time. With it being a short week, we’ll see where he’s at.”

O’Connell said he has confidence in Shelley, who played three overtime snaps at Buffalo, and broke up a key pass in the end zone. If he were to start, Shelley would be the third starter in three games at right cornerback since Cameron Dantzler was placed on injured reserve on Nov. 12 with a left high ankle sprain.

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Akayleb Evans
Kam Nedd / Minnesota Vikings

“As we saw against Buffalo, (Shelley) is ready when his number is called to step in and make a play,” O’Connell said.

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Other Vikings players listed as limited after the walkthrough were defensive end Dalvin Tomlinson (right calf) and edge rusher Za’Darius Smith (knee). O’Connell said Tomlinson, who has missed the past three games, has a chance to play against the Patriots.

Getting the ball out quicker

Entering Sunday, Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson was coming off an impressive six-game stretch in which he averaged 11.8 targets, 8.5 receptions and 135.7 yards per game.

Then came the ugly 40-3 loss to the Dallas Cowboys at U.S. Bank Stadium. Jefferson had a meager five targets and three catches for 33 yards.

“It’s tough,’’ Jefferson said Monday. “Kirk (Cousins) getting sacked before you’re even getting out of the break is definitely being in a tough situation.”

The Minnesota quarterback was sacked seven times, the most in a game in Cousins’ 11-year career, and he didn’t play in the fourth quarter. Looking back, Jefferson said the Vikings needed to get the ball out with more urgency.

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Justin Jefferson

“We’ve just got to move toward a more quick game, getting the ball out quicker, just putting the ball in space and letting people work,’’ he said. “It’s just things that we need to adjust on. Just throughout the game, if things are not working out the way we planned, then we need to find a way to adjust and go toward something that will work better for us. We just can’t continue to keep doing the same thing throughout the game even though it’s not working.’’

Jefferson believed more adjustments could have been made during the game. The Vikings got a 25-yard field goal from Greg Joseph midway through the first quarter to tie the score 3-3 but didn’t threaten to score the rest of the game.

“Of course, I wish we adjusted faster throughout the game,’’ Jefferson said. “Of course, getting the ball out quicker, not letting (linebacker) Micah Parsons and the rest of their D-line get a chance to get back there to Kirk.”

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Parsons, a leading contender for NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and defensive end Dorance Armstrong each had two sacks Sunday. Overall, the Cowboys had 13 quarterback pressures.

Jefferson did say that the Vikings have a “new coaching staff” and “new players” and ‘we’re still all learning how to play with each other.” He expressed confidence about the team being able to make adjustments for Thursday night’s game against New England at U.S. Bank Stadium. And he said running the ball better helps the passing attack, something O’Connell touched upon after Sunday’s game.

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On offense, it didn’t help that they lost star left tackle Christian Darrisaw with a concussion on the second play of the second quarter when he banged helmets while blocking Armstrong. Darrisaw has been ruled out of Thursday’s game.

Darrisaw was replaced against Dallas by Blake Brandel. However, Brandel struggled and his Pro Football Focus grade of 31.3 was the lowest of 20 Minnesota offensive players rated for the game.

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