Minnesota Vikings: Player Watch – Wednesday 21 Dec 11

C John Sullivan has impressed the Vikings enough to earn a five-year, $25 million contract extension. An undersized center, Sullivan has worked hard to improve his technique and strength. He has made improvements, especially in his ability to handle bigger nose tackles. In giving him another guaranteed $10 million, the Vikings are banking on him being the centerpiece of a line that needs to be rebuilt.

CB Antoine Winfield, who’s on injured reserve because of a broken clavicle, said he should be at full strength by February and intends to play a 14th season next year. His season was limited to five games because of a sprained neck and the broken clavicle. He’ll be 35 next season. When healthy, he was the team’s best defensive back. But his age and physical style of play makes him a risk to depend on next season.

RB Adrian Peterson looked strong, but didn’t have his full speed in his first game back after missing three weeks because of a high left ankle sprain. Peterson had only 10 carries for 60 yards. He broke free one time but didn’t have his usual extra gear and was corralled after a 39-yard run.

RB Toby Gerhart is becoming a decent third-down receiving option. Against the Saints on Sunday, he tied the team record for touchdown catches by a running back (two). That’s a good sign for a team that’s had trouble utilizing Gerhart and Peterson when both are healthy.

WR Percy Harvin had a rare game in which he was a non-factor. After averaging 121 yards from scrimmage with five touchdowns the previous four weeks, Harvin had only four touches for 7 yards in the loss to the Saints. It’s a reminder that the Vikings desperately need a No. 1 receiver for many reasons, including the ability to divert attention away from Harvin.

QB Christian Ponder, the 12th overall draft pick, was viewed with much more promise back when he first replaced Donovan McNabb and went 1-1 as a starter through his first two games. He nearly rallied the Vikings to a victory over the Packers at home in his starting debut. Then, a week later, he went to Carolina and beat fellow rookie Cam Newton and the Panthers.

QB Christian Ponder’s accuracy has gotten worse the past two weeks. A hip pointer suffered three weeks ago has something to do with it. It’s Ponder’s right hip, so he’s had trouble throwing through the ball. He had 17 incompletions in 31 attempts against the Saints on Sunday. The ball tended to sail on him, or was just off the mark in other cases.

WR Owen Spencer had his contract terminated from Minnesota’s practice squad.

TE Kyle Rudolph will be a much bigger part of the offense in 2012 and beyond. For starters, the rookie will get more opportunities because veteran Visanthe Shiancoe probably won’t be re-signed. Rudolph has 21 catches, tied for fifth on the team, for 211 yards and two touchdowns. If the Vikings keep the same run-oriented, move-the-chains offense, Rudolph will be an asset because of his size, deceptive speed and soft hands.

WR Manny Arceneaux, who was promoted from the practice squad a week ago, caught one pass for 10 yards in the loss to the Saints. Injuries at the position finally mounted high enough to give Arceneaux a chance. He spent the last two years catching 130 passes in the CFL.

LT Charlie Johnson probably is playing his final two games at left tackle for the Vikings. Johnson was a one-year, stopgap signing when the Vikings saw that Bryant McKinnie was going to be too out of shape to help right away. McKinnie was released and is now on his way to the playoffs as a starter for the Ravens. Johnson might be able to help the team at guard and as a backup tackle. But he’s not a starting-caliber left tackle.

CB Cedric Griffin appears to be running out of time as a Viking. He’s struggled all season trying to regain his form after tearing the ACL in both knees the past two seasons. He was benched in the first quarter two weeks ago and lost his starting job against the Saints last Sunday. Griffin also didn’t play even after an already-depleted secondary lost cornerback Asher Allen to a concussion in the first quarter.

LG Steve Hutchinson and CB Asher Allen are recovering from concussions suffered against the Saints and are uncertain for Saturday’s game at Washington.

LG Steve Hutchinson suffered a concussion and a split lip during the Saints game. Don’t be surprised if he doesn’t make the trip to Washington, considering the team’s record and the wear and tear on the 34-year-old this season.