Compared to last week when he sat out, rookie wide receiver Julio Jones's status for Sunday's game with Minnesota has been upgraded by the Atlanta Falcons.
The Falcons officially listed Jones on Friday as probable, whereas last week they listed him as questionable because of a hamstring injury that he suffered on Nov. 13 against New Orleans. Jones did not practice on Wednesday but did get back on the practice field on Thursday in a limited capacity and participated fully on Friday.
And while the Falcons have a host of defensive players on the injury report, their fears could be allayed by the fact that running back Adrian Peterson most likely will not suit up for the Vikings. The Vikings listed Peterson as doubtful with a high-ankle sprain, but head coach Leslie Frazier told reporters in Minnesota that Peterson was "very, very doubtful" after suffering an injury last Sunday and failing to practice all week.
The Falcons also ruled out starting nickelback Kelvin Hayden (toe) for Sunday, meaning his back-up Christopher Owens will start in his place. Other Falcons starters who might return to the lineup include safety William Moore (probable), who has missed the last two games with a quadriceps injury, and left tackle Sam Baker, who was listed as questionable after participating fully on Friday for the first time since suffering the injury on Oct. 16.
"When (Moore) first was injured, we thought it would be somewhere in the three to four week timeframe of getting him back," Falcons head coach Mike Smith said earlier this week. "This Sunday will be three weeks so right now, we're a little bit ahead of schedule but it's a good thing."
Baker also was listed as questionable last week against Tennessee, when he was inactive for the fourth straight game. He has missed five weeks with the back injury, as he was injured before the Falcons' bye week. Smith has mostly side-stepped questions about whether Baker has lost his job to back-up Will Svitek, who has filled in fairly ably in Baker's absence.
With Hayden out, the Falcons could be somewhat thin on defense if some of the other players listed on Friday's injury report cannot go. Cornerback Brent Grimes (knee) did not participate in practice on Wednesday, was limited on Thursday, and then on Friday, in an ominous sign, did not practice.
If Grimes does not play, the Falcons would be especially vulnerable in nickel situations with Hayden already out. Most likely Owens would take Grimes spot at the left corner and the Falcons would venture even farther down the depth chart at nickel, most likely to second-year player Dominique Franks. Franks has received little to no playing time on defense during the regular season.
Fortunately for the Falcons, they face one of the NFL's worst passing offenses in the Vikings. In recent weeks, the Vikings switched from veteran Donovan McNabb at quarterback to rookie first-round pick Christian Ponder. Smith was asked to compare Ponder to Tennessee's Jake Locker, another rookie quarterback taken in the first-round who hurt the Falcons last week with 140 yards passing and two touchdown throws in less than a full half of play.
"There's a lot of similarities," Smith said. "In fact, on a stopwatch, he might even run faster than Locker. He's done a nice job tucking the ball down and running. Again, he was the leading rusher in the ballgame against Oakland. He had 70-plus yards rushing."
In terms of the Vikings' running the ball with Peterson out, both Smith and Frazier said it was possible that former Florida Gator Percy Harvin would line up in the backfield and take handoffs. Toby Gerhart would be the starter.
Back-up Falcons defensive tackle Vance Walker (groin) also was listed as questionable, potentially hurting the Falcons depth on the defensive line rotation. The Falcons like to play four defensive tackles and Walker's absence would cut that to three. Their only other defensive tackle, Carlton Powell, has not played since the third game of the season and possibly has only played on special teams.