MINNEAPOLIS -- With both Charles Johnson and Mike Wallace back at practice for the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday, and both likely to be available for Sunday's game against the Kansas City Chiefs according to coach Mike Zimmer, the Vikings have an interesting dilemma on their hands:
How many of their six receivers do they use, and which ones?
That decision won't be dictated entirely by the Vikings. Zimmer said it's possible the team will have six receivers active for the first time this season, after rookie Stefon Diggs caught six passes for 87 yards in his first NFL action two weeks ago. And while the Vikings are one of seven teams that haven't put more than three receivers on the field for a single snap this season according to ESPN Stats and Information, they've started to get more players involved through different packages, and got a better feel for what Diggs and Adam Thielen can do in the Week 4 loss to the Broncos.
But because the Vikings aren't going to force the ball to one player, there's no guarantee any single receiver will have a big day.
"The thing I keep telling them is, 'You never know when it's your day,'" Zimmer said. "You never know where the coverage is rolled. Even though you might have some plays called for Wallace, it might end up being (tight end Kyle) Rudolph. So you've got to stay patient. I didn't think going into the (Denver) game that Wallace would have eight catches. You've just got to keep going and keep playing. And you know, it's always a good thing to have depth."
The odd man out could eventually be Cordarrelle Patterson, who has fewer targets than any Vikings receiver other than Zach Line this season. The Vikings have used Patterson primarily as a blocker, and his job as a kick returner seems to be the main reason he's still active. Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said Thursday he'd be comfortable with Patterson, Diggs or punt returner Marcus Sherels on kickoffs, and while the Vikings have no reason to make a change any time soon, they could head in another direction if they want Diggs active and need a roster spot on game day.
"He’s doing what every other young guy does," offensive coordinator Norv Turner said of Diggs. "He’s a hard worker and he listens and he’s working hard to do things the way we ask him to do them. That’s the position he plays, he plays X [receiver] and he stepped in there good."
In Turner's four decades of experience with his offense, he's learned that opportunities tend to go in cycles for receivers. "The way that people are playing us right now, or I should say the way Denver played us, there were opportunities to throw the ball to the outside," he said. "Obviously, we were playing against two outstanding pass rushers, so the ability to help in there with the tight ends was very important for us. Again, another game, the tight ends might between them get five, six or eight catches and the receivers might get as many."
While Wallace leads the Vikings with 20 catches this season, no other Vikings target has more than 14 so far. At this point, Turner says, the question of who's getting targeted, and who's not, really isn't worth much consideration.
"I don’t get caught up in that because through 16 games you’re going to have a lot of different people contribute," Turner said. "That’s just the way it tends to work in this league."