For the second straight week, the Vikings have ruled out rookie guard Ezra Cleveland as he continues to recover from a lingering ankle injury. That means veteran Brett Jones likely will start again on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. Kickoff is at noon at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Jones started last week against the Dallas Cowboys, and though the Vikings didn’t get the win, Jones impressed pretty much everyone, especially offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, with his seamless transition into the starting lineup.

“He’s a great team player, and when he gets his chances, he does a good job,” Kubiak said. “He did a hell of a job last week. He played good enough for us to win the football game.”

Earlier this week, Jones spoke about how meaningful the game against the Cowboys was to him. He has spent most of the past few seasons on the practice squad, scrapping to stay on the active roster, and not always successfully. He was cut as recently as last month, re-signing with the practice squad the following day, and getting elevated to the active roster for good a couple of weeks ago.

“How many times has Jonesy been let go and brought back on the practice squad?” Kubiak said. “That’s part of a career. It may discourage people. It never discourages him. He’s always battling.”

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While the Vikings haven’t confirmed that Jones will start this weekend, it’s clear how his teammates and the coaching staff feel about him. Not only do they feel good about him getting his chance, they believe in him being able to get the job done.

“I’m a Brett Jones fan,” Kubiak said. “I’m just happy to see guys like this get a chance to play, and like I said, he played really well last week. It’s a shame we didn’t get a ‘W’ for him. Hopefully we can change that this week.”

Thielen in protocol

It’s still unclear whether star receiver Adam Thielen will be able to play in Sunday’s game. He was placed on the COVID reserve list Tuesday after initially returning a positive test though, according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, he later returned a negative test.

If Thielen continues to return negative tests leading up to the game, he will be eligible to come off the COVID reserve list in time to play Sunday.

“We’ll just have to see,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “He’s going through the protocol. We’ll just have to see how it goes.”

Conklin steps up

With tight end Irv Smith Jr. listed as doubtful for Sunday’s game with a groin injury, fellow tight end Tyler Conklin is preparing for an increased role against the Panthers. He filled in admirably Nov. 17 against the Chicago Bears, hauling in a pair of receptions for 11 yards.

“He’s doing really well,” Kubiak said. “I really like how he works. He’s playing behind a couple of good players and he’s never gotten discouraged at all. He just keeps working to get better, and guys that do it that way usually have a lot of success when they get an opportunity. I’m excited for him to play some more.”