Newest Vikings lineman has ties to St. Paul and ... Packers
EAGAN, Minn. — Bryan Witzmann didn't expect to be cut by the Kansas City Chiefs, but at least he gets to come home.
The St. Paul native started 13 games at guard last season for the Chiefs before being released on Sept. 3. He signed with the Vikings on Monday, Sept. 10.
"I was definitely surprised, but I know how this industry works and sometimes they think they can get by with younger, cheaper guys," he said Wednesday. "Obviously, it sucks to get cut, but I'm happy to be home."
Though he was born in Minnesota, Witzmann grew up across the St. Croix River in Houlton, Wis. So, was he a Vikings or Packers fan?
"I was kind of right in the middle because my parents were Vikings fans and all my friends growing up were mostly Packers fans, so I tried not to play into anybody too much," he said.
Obviously, Witzmann is all in now with the Vikings. His first game with them will be Sunday at Green Bay.
"It's going to be fun. Obviously, I'm from Wisconsin, but I'm going to shove it in my friends' face and everything," he said with a laugh.
Witzmann practiced for the first time with the Vikings on Wednesday. Before the workout, coach Mike Zimmer said he's "hopeful that he can come in and help us" on the offensive line.
"I think the strength for me is I'm versatile," said Witzmann, who entered the NFL in 2014 as an undrafted rookie from South Dakota State. "I can play both guards and tackles, and wherever they need me, I'm going to go."
Smith earns weekly honor
Vikings safety Harrison Smith was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week on Wednesday for his all-around performance against San Francisco.
In a 24-16 season-opening victory over the 49ers on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium, Smith had an interception, a fumble recovery and a sack. He finished with eight tackles, two for lost yardage, and a quarterback hurry.
Smith intercepted a Jimmy Garoppolo pass with 1:35 remaining to clinch the victory. It was the last of four turnovers forced by the Minnesota defense, including three interceptions of Garoppolo.
"It's cool." Smith said of the award. "Still a lot of things to correct, so just focusing on what the coaches are getting corrected and what they want us to execute."
Smith has been named defensive player of the week twice in his seven-year career.
Hill uneven in debut
It wasn't the best debut, but Vikings cornerback Holton Hill was glad to get into his first regular-season game Sunday.
The undrafted rookie played four snaps from scrimmage and was in for 22 plays on special teams in Minnesota's 24-16 victory over San Francisco. Hill entered on defense late in the first half when left cornerback Trae Waynes departed with a knee injury, and soon after, on third-and-6, gave up a 14-yard reception to tight end George Kittle to the Vikings 25. He was replaced for the second half by Mike Hughes, Minnesota's first-round draft pick who played nickel back in the first half.
"Stuff happens," Hill said. "But I'm going out there and just giving it my all. I'm going to fight. ... It was just a real good experience to be out there with my team and just get experience with the atmosphere. It was an amazing feeling."
Three undrafted rookies made the Vikings' roster. The other two, running backs Mike Boone and Roc Thomas, were inactive in the opener.
All 53 players on the Vikings' roster practiced Wednesday, with only center Pat Elflein being listed as limited.
Waynes returned from his knee injury. Also back were cornerback Mackensie Alexander and Thomas, who both sat out against the 49ers because of ankle injuries.
Elflein, working his way back from shoulder and ankle issues, has been limited since returning to practice Sept. 2. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer didn't want to speculate before the workout on when Elflein could play in a game.
"He's come a long way," Zimmer said. "He had a good week, feels good about things. I'll have to see how practice goes this week."
It doesn't appear likely Elflein will play against the Packers. A more realistic return date could be Sept. 23 against Buffalo.