By DAVE CAMPBELL
AP Sports Writer
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Without Bryant McKinnie, the Minnesota Vikings are being as creative as they can about blocking on the left side of the line.
This week, that assignment is as difficult as it gets: keeping Indianapolis defensive end Dwight Freeney from causing too much trouble in the backfield.
In the season opener against Green Bay and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, another one of the league's elite speed-based pass rushers, the Vikings aided Artis Hicks and then Marcus Johnson -- the fill-ins for McKinnie -- with some chips from the tight ends and running backs, and help from left guard Steve Hutchinson.
They used a multitude of formations to keep the Packers from getting comfortable, and quarterback Tarvaris Jackson was sacked just once in the 24-19 defeat.
"We just mixed it up. We didn't have any percussion grenades or anything like that to be able to throw out there and slow them down," coach Brad Childress said with his usual deadpan.
The 6-foot-8, 335-pound McKinnie is suspended through the end of the month for troubles off the field. Hicks started at left tackle instead, but he hurt his right elbow in the third quarter against Green Bay and was replaced by Johnson. Hicks was limited in practice again Friday and will be a game-time decision.
Freeney, a two-time All-Pro pick, missed the last seven games of 2007 following a foot injury and has only nine sacks over the previous two years. But he's still considered one of the best, and he forms a formidable rushing tandem with the Colts' other top end, Robert Mathis.
After a limited amount of time in last week's loss to Chicago, Freeney is expected to play his first full game since the surgery last November. He's happy about that, but not as eager as most observers might think regarding Minnesota's situation across from him.
"To be honest with you that probably just means that they will help more on that side, which means more guys that I will have to see than normal," Freeney said. "So I wouldn't say that I'm excited about it. It probably makes it a little bit tougher. I usually like to see the starting guy or that elite tackle, whereas though they have enough confidence in him where they are going to block me one-on-one and I can get some more opportunities to make some plays. If they play their second- or third-string guy, obviously they're not going to leave him alone, so therefore it is not going to be that easy."
Freeney, listed at 6-foot-1 and 268 pounds, is a perfect example of the league-wide trend at end: the speedier the better, no matter the size. Vikings rookie Drew Radovich, another backup tackle who could be active for Sunday's game, sounded a bit awestruck when asked about the challenge presented by today's NFL pass rushers.
"They're just getting bigger and faster," Radovich said.
During practice this week the Vikings used two of their fastest practice squad players, running back Albert Young and wide receiver Darius Reynaud, to rush on the ends and try to simulate the speed of Freeney and Mathis for the benefit of the tackles.
Hicks appreciated the tuneup for his matchup against Freeney, assuming he's healthy enough to suit up.
"He has more of a skill-guy type of quickness," Hicks said. "He's more like a receiver or a DB or a running back. He's so low to the ground and has such a powerful center of gravity, that it's hard to get your hands on him."
Don't worry, Artis. You have help.
"Definitely, we're always looking to help our teammates and make somebody else's job easier," tight end Visanthe Shiancoe said.
Especially this week.
"Don't worry about it," Shiancoe said. "We've got something to slow 'em down. We've got something for that, for both of 'em."
When asked about Freeney, Childress put this in coachspeak: "You want to show them an array of different sets. Obviously, he has some pretty good countermoves to counter what you're doing. He sees it all, being a premier pass rusher. Even after spending some time off, he looks as explosive as ever."
Ultimately, it's Jackson for whom all this scheming is done.
"Those guys stepped up big time," he said. "I know it's a different deal with Artis being in there, then getting hurt and Marcus had to come in. We didn't slow down at all. Those guys did a great job protecting me. I didn't get hit as much, so that was good."
Notes: Safety Madieu Williams, recovering from a nerve problem in his neck, will sit out again this week but was spotted on the field with his teammates during prepractice stretching Friday and remains on track to return. The original recovery timetable had him back before the beginning of October. "He's coming right along. He's all in. He's progressing," Childress said.
AP Sports Writer Jon Krawczynski contributed to this story.