(Photo credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports)
A pair of winless teams will try to begin the month of October on a positive note when the Minnesota Vikings visit the Carolina Panthers on Sunday afternoon in Charlotte.
Despite a difficult start, Carolina (0-3) has at least one reason for optimism heading into Week 4. The Panthers expect to welcome back rookie quarterback Bryce Young after he sat out last weekend because of an ankle injury.
"Just have to make sure there's no major setbacks, no flare-ups," Panthers coach Frank Reich said. "If he stays on track, then I think things are headed in the right direction."
Young, the No. 1 overall pick this spring, has 20-plus completions and a touchdown pass in each of his first two NFL starts. His injury replacement last week was Andy Dalton, who passed for 361 yards and two touchdowns in a loss against Seattle.
Although Dalton fared well, the Panthers would prefer to showcase their top rookie.
"First thing I would say is hats off to Bryce for getting himself ready to get out there today," Reich said after Young's first full practice of the week. "You could see the determination in his eyes. You could feel his energy and the will to be out there."
Vikings coach Kevin O'Connell is hoping to see similar determination from his squad. Minnesota (0-3) leads the NFL in turnovers, and O'Connell said his players need to correct that problem or they will be replaced.
"I think that's something we're going to fix one way or the other," O'Connell said. "Either guys are going to (fix) it or we're going to have to put other guys in the game that will have ball security."
One position battle to watch could be at running back, where Alexander Mattison has lost a fumble and has yet to notch a rushing touchdown. The Vikings acquired fellow running back Cam Akers last week and could increase his workload at Carolina.
The Vikings' turnovers have overshadowed an impressive statistical start for quarterback Kirk Cousins, who enters Week 4 with a league-leading 1,075 passing yards. His top target, Justin Jefferson, leads the league with 458 receiving yards.
Miles Sanders leads the Panthers' ground game with 139 rushing yards and a touchdown. He also has 12 catches for 68 yards out of the backfield.
Carolina's top receiver is a familiar face to the Vikings. Veteran Adam Thielen is in his first season with the Panthers after spending his first 10 seasons in Minnesota.
Thielen ranks fourth in Vikings franchise history with 6,682 receiving yards, and he ranks third in franchise history with 55 touchdowns. In his first three games with the Panthers, he has hauled in 20 passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns.
This week's game preparation has felt strange to Thielen.
"It's already honestly a little weird watching tape," Thielen said. "It's just crazy to be game planning against guys that were my teammates for a long time."
Panthers linebacker Frankie Luvu (hip) and safety Xavier Woods (hamstring) were included on the team's initial injury report for the game.
Several Vikings also did not participate in practice, including defensive end Marcus Davenport (ankle), cornerback Byron Murphy (hip) and safety Josh Metellus (shoulder).
--Field Level Media