Asamoah back from injury, giving Flores another tool for his scheme

Anthony Souffle, Star Tribune/Star Tribune/TNS

Vikings linebacker Brian Asamoah returned from a two-week absence due to a shoulder injury, jumping back into 11-on-11 drills during Thursday's joint practice against the Cardinals. It gave defensive coordinator Brian Flores yet another option in a scheme that could hand out many part-time roles this season.

The Vikings deployed all three linebackers — veteran Jordan Hicks, rookie Ivan Pace Jr. and Asamoah — with the starting defense on Thursday. Asamoah started next to Hicks. Then Pace and Asamoah took snaps together without Hicks. On the next series, Hicks was the only linebacker on the field in a dime package featuring six defensive backs around him.

Flores' versatile approach could lead to roles for all three linebackers.

"Those three have done some good things," Flores said. "Jordan bringing a lot of leadership. ... BA is a second-year player, still young and still learning. Still needs to get out there and experience the areas and situations that can come up: third down, red zone, two-minute — and we play them all differently. We could have the same call on third down and two-minute, but they should be played totally differently based on the situation."

On Thursday, each linebacker appeared to relay play calls radioed into their helmet from Flores. Hicks is expected to handle those duties in the regular season. Asamoah said they're all being trained to do that depending on who's in the game.

"I have no catching up to do," said Asamoah, who declined to say if he's playing in Saturday's preseason finale. "I've been coming into the facility super early, getting my mental reps also on the football field. I haven't missed anything. I'm right where I need to be and picking up where I left off at."

Asamoah, who flashed his playmaking chops last season in limited action as a third-round rookie, "brings a level of juice and energy" that Flores said he likes. Flores added that Asamoah is headed in "the right direction" after missing two weeks due to the shoulder injury.

"He wants smart football players," Asamoah said of Flores. "We're all able to go out there and call the defense. We're all able to go out there and execute what he wants done from a standpoint of getting everyone situated."

'Like a normal day'

Cornerback Byron Murphy Jr., a former Arizona starter, stepped in front of Cardinals receiver Marquise Brown and intercepted Colt McCoy during a passing drill Thursday. Murphy punted the ball in glee — like he was pumped to show his former team what it's missing.

"To make that play and hear the crowd go crazy," Murphy said, "it was a wonderful feeling."

The competitive fire melted into brotherly love after practice. Murphy and Hicks, who spent three seasons together in Arizona, were among the last players off the field during each joint practice as they reconnected with former teammates.

"It was like a normal day for me," said Murphy, who had interceptions in both joint sessions against Arizona. "Obviously it's like you came from that team, but they're my brothers. I always talk to them every single day still."

Osborn joins list of DNPs

Six players — receiver K.J. Osborn, safety Lewis Cine, running back Kene Nwangwu, cornerbacks Joejuan Williams and Tay Gowan and linebacker Abraham Beauplan — did not practice Thursday. Osborn appeared to be hobbled during Wednesday's session.

Tight end T.J. Hockenson, who reported lower back stiffness after recovering from his ear infection, continued to warm up with the team before working on his own with strength coach Josh Hingst.

Cornerback NaJee Thompson returned to practice in a red no-contact jersey while working his way through the concussion protocol. Defensive lineman Esezi Otomewo was a full participant, indicating he cleared the protocols to return.


* Quarterback Kirk Cousins said starters are expected to remain sidelined during Saturday's exhibition finale against the Cardinals. "Would love to play and love to get the work," he said, "[but] also understand the risk that's involved and understand the rationale for not."

* Cousins said he recently watched a 30-minute interview with Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice and sent it to Osborn and Justin Jefferson. "The way he prepared — with all respect to Jerry Rice — [there's] a borderline paranoia to get better," he said. "The reason I sent it ... was to say this is what greatness looks like."

* The Vikings released receiver N'Keal Harry on Thursday and signed safety Jake Gervase, a second-year player out of Iowa. Harry was injured during warmups before last week's Titans game.