Thielen did not practice on Tuesday, two days ahead of when Minnesota plays host to the Washington Redskins. He was listed as a non-participant on the first injury report of the week on Monday, which was an estimation if the Vikings were to have practiced.
While Thielen is "improving fast," according to coach Mike Zimmer, the receiver noted that this injury is one he hasn’t dealt with before, which makes recovering from it on a short week challenging. Still, he's optimistic that he’ll play on Thursday night.
"I don’t know what the percent chance is, but I feel great," Thielen said. "Obviously it’s a short week, so (the Vikings’ medical staff) is doing everything; doing everything I can to try to play. It’s come a long way in the two days since the game. So I feel good and am very hopeful for the game."
Should the Vikings be without Thielen, they’ll look to rookie Bisi Johnson to fill the void. The seventh-rounder stepped in after Thielen injured his hamstring in the first quarter on Sunday, and caught four passes for 40 yards and his first career touchdown in Detroit.
The Vikings have long struggled to establish quality depth behind Thielen and Stefon Diggs. In April, Minnesota hoped to makes strides in that area by drafting two receivers in the seventh round, selecting Johnson out of Colorado State and Dillon Mitchell from Oregon.
"Our coaches and scouts did a tremendous job studying, trying to stack the bottom end of that board to go ahead and get guys that we think have the ability to develop and hopefully turn out for us," general manager Rick Spielman said in April.
Nearing the halfway point of the season, Johnson is no longer a developmental prospect. He's already meeting those expectations, having carved out a role as the No. 3 receiver. He has 13 catches for 134 yards and a touchdown through seven games, and at times has helped ease the burden off Thielen and Diggs while giving quarterback Kirk Cousins another option in the passing game.
"It felt really good," Johnson said of his performance in Detroit. "That just shows how much confidence the coaches have in me and how much confidence, obviously, Kirk has in me. I can go out there and make plays all the time. That’s what I’m here for; that’s why I’m here. I’m here to make plays, and I’ll do just that."
Johnson was the subject of early praise from Vikings coaches. By the end of training camp, he was the only rookie receiver of the four Minnesota brought in to crack the 53-man roster. He beat out a handful of veterans, too, including former first-round pick Laquon Treadwell (who re-signed four weeks into the season) and current Panthers receiver Brandon Zylstra.
It’s been years since a receiver has made a sizable impact during his rookie season in Minnesota. Johnson’s progression through the first half of the season is proving to Vikings coaches that they made the right choice with their late-round pick.
"The first thing when they’re young guys is do they know what to do, are they getting to the right depths, are they running the right reads off the coverages," Zimmer said. "The next part is how many places can you play, which he was able to play a lot of different spots. He’s still continued to move forward as far as the details of the route running.
"It’s kind of like I was telling somebody the other day, I think they asked me on the conference call about Irv Smith, what have I seen different (from him). There was a play at practice last week where he widened and kind of sent the DB up and then came back inside, which he wasn’t doing those kind of things. I think Bisi is kind of the same way. They’re learning how to set guys up more when they’re going different ways."
Johnson’s path to the NFL was similar to that of guys ahead of him. Thielen’s rags-to-riches story as an undrafted college tryout player to two-time Pro Bowler has been well-documented, as has Diggs’ journey from fifth-round pick in 2015. The appreciation the older receivers have for the hungry rookie's work ethic is earning him major kudos among his position group.
"He didn’t need much teaching, he did everything he was asked and he prepared the right way," Diggs said. "I always have respect for guys who come in late (in the draft), but being a professional, he does his job. You can appreciate that more as a man than a player."