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Ezra Cleveland’s ankle injury means Vikings forced to call another audible at right guard

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Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Ezra Cleveland (72) in action in the third quarter during an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/David Berding)

The Vikings found stability at right guard when they moved rookie Ezra Cleveland to that spot in Week 6 against Atlanta. Minnesota is 3-1 since that time, beating Green Bay, Detroit and Chicago in its past three games. But an ankle injury Cleveland suffered early in Monday night’s game against the Bears will keep him out Sunday vs. Dallas and force the Vikings to start their fourth different player at right guard this season.

Pat Elflein played the spot in Week 1 but suffered a thumb injury a few days later in practice and was placed on injured reserve. He was replaced by Dru Samia for the next four games but a wrist injury and ineffectiveness opened the door for Cleveland to take over.

The Vikings now plan to start veteran Brett Jones, who has bounced between the practice squad and active roster this season. Jones has appeared in eight games on special teams but hasn’t had more than one snap playing on the offensive line since the 2018 season. He played in 14 games that season and started three of them for the Vikings after being traded from the Giants in August 2018 for a seventh-round pick. Jones’ three starts came in place of the injured Elflein at center and were in the first three games of the season.

The Vikings activated Elflein from the IR last weekend, but he was placed on waivers and claimed by the New York Jets.

The Vikings also listed cornerback Cameron Dantzler and tight end Irv Smith Jr., as questionable for Sunday. Dantzler has missed the past two games after suffering a concussion against Green Bay and Smith was injured in the Vikings’ victory over Detroit on Nov. 8. Fullback C.J. Ham’s status also is in doubt after he was added to the COVID-19 reserve list this week.

The good news for the Viking, and star running back Dalvin Cook, is that even with Cleveland and possibly Ham out for Sunday, the Cowboys’ run defense is the second worst in the NFL (giving up 157 yards per game) and Dallas is giving up an NFL-worst 32.2 points per game.