Very little is guaranteed in the NFL at this time of year. Just as the weather takes a dip in temperature, the NFL can prove to be a cold business, as well.
Veterans who have been established starters over previous years find themselves out of work, and players who thought they might be starters are demoted. NFL rosters turn from 90 players to 53 players over the next two weeks and we'll try to figure it all out, but just like the players surprised by a personnel move, our list is likely to be flawed when general manager Rick Spielman goes for an early fall hunt on the waiver wire and adds talent in late August that was with another team in mid-August.
In the first six months of 2012 alone, from the Vikings' last game of the 2011 season to the end of minicamp, Spielman had already executed 70 personnel moves. Over the course of four days – from the cutdown to 75 on Aug. 27 to the cutdown to 53 on Aug. 31 – he'll be making at least 40 roster moves by cutting his own players, then adding through the waiver wire and re-establishing a practice squad.
Without the benefit of advanced waiver notices, here is our roster projection midway through the preseason.
QUARTERBACK (have 4, kept 3 to start 2011)
The players—Christian Ponder, Joe Webb, Sage Rosenfels, McLeod Bethel-Thompson.
The outlook—Leslie Frazier has made it clear: Christian Ponder is the starter and Joe Webb is the backup. Ponder has clearly outplayed the others in the first two preseason games, completing 14 of 22 for 216 yards, one TD, no interceptions and a 111.2 passer rating. None of the Vikings' other options have better than a 50 completion percentage or 80 passer rating. Any thought of keeping developmental QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson over veteran Sage Rosenfels, something Frazier suggested last week, is likely out the door with Webb's preseason struggles with accuracy. Rosenfels is needed not only for the mentor role but also a potential option on the field if Ponder is hurt. While Rosenfels completed 50 percent of his passes and had a 76.6 rating Friday night, Webb has struggled badly with his accuracy, completing only 42 percent of his passes for a paltry 3.6 yards per attempt and only a 52.2 rating. That has to translate in keeping Rosenfels as an option and leaving Bethel-Thompson as a practice squad possibility.
The projection—Ponder, Webb, Rosenfels (3).
RUNNING BACK (8, 3)
The players—Adrian Peterson, Toby Gerhart, Jordan Todman, Lex Hilliard, Derrick Coleman, Jerome Felton, Ryan D'Imperio, Matt Asiata.
The outlook—Peterson and Gerhart are locks and Felton appears to be the best fullback option, but they still need one other running back. If Jordan Todman hadn't been limited the last two weeks with an ankle injury, he might be the leader in the clubhouse, but Vikings could go with a bigger body who gives them flexibility at tailback and fullback, like Hilliard and Asiata offer. Coleman could make a good practice squad candidate, but D'Imperio's days with the Vikings appear over.
The projection—Peterson, Gerhart, Felton, Hilliard (4). We borrow an offensive line spot from last year's numbers to incorporate four running backs/fullbacks.
WIDE RECEIVER (12, 5)
The players—Percy Harvin, Jerome Simpson, Michael Jenkins, Stephen Burton, Jarius Wright, Devin Aromashodu, Emmanuel Arceneaux, Bryan Walters, Kerry Taylor, Kamar Jorden, A.J. Love.
The outlook—In order to get to the number (five) that they had last year, the Vikings can start with six since Simpson will be on the reserve/suspended list for the first three games. Percy Harvin is the obvious lock, and after Jenkins slashed his salary and then showed he could still go up and high-point a ball Friday night, he should be safe. Stephen Burton has shown enough throughout the offseason and preseason to earn his spot, and the Vikings aren't likely to part with fourth-rounder Jarius Wright. That leaves just one open spot that is likely between Aromashodu, Arceneaux or a free-agent waiver wire find.
The projection—Harvin, Simpson (suspended for three games), Jenkins, Burton, Wright, Aromashodu (5, plus Simpson).
TIGHT END (5, 4)
The players—Kyle Rudolph, John Carlson, Rhett Ellison, Allen Reisner, Mickey Shuler.
The outlook—Rudolph, Carlson and Ellison are roster locks, and we'll list Ellison among the tight ends even though the Vikings have him clustered with the running backs. Reisner has shown more than Shuler in both camp and games, so if they limited the tight end corps to four and Ellison is among that group, Shuler should be the odd man out until an injury forces a move.
The projection—Rudolph, Carlson, Ellison, Reisner (4).
OFFENSIVE LINE (17, 10)
The players—Matt Kalil, Charlie Johnson, John Sullivan, Brandon Fusco, Phil Loadholt, DeMarcus Love, Pat Brown, Levi Horn, Kevin Murphy, Geoff Schwartz, Chris DeGeare, Tyler Holmes, Austin Pasztor, Bridger Buche, Grant Cook, Joe Berger, Quentin Saulsberry.
The outlook—The starting lineup should be, from left to right, Kalil, Johnson, Sullivan, Fusco and Loadholt. Despite battling a shoulder injury for much of camp, Love should share backup tackle duties with Brown, and Schwartz is the top backup guard who also could play tackle in a pinch, with Berger the interior swing man that is mostly a center but can provide support at guard, too. That leaves a heap of youngsters, most of whom are at least candidates for the practice squad.
. The projection—Kalil, Johnson, Sullivan, Fusco, Loadholt, Schwartz, Love, Brown, Berger (9).
DEFENSIVE LINE (16, 9)
The players—Brian Robison, Kevin Williams, Letroy Guion, Jared Allen, Everson Griffen, D'Aundre Reed, Nick Reed, Jeff Charleston, Ernest Owusu, Anthony Jacobs, Fred Evans, Christian Ballard, Trevor Guyton, Chase Baker, Tydreke Powell.
The outlook—The starting four is set so long as Guion returns from a knee injury this week, as expected, joining Robison, Williams and Allen. But even without Guion, the defensive line performed well with Evans starting at nose tackle Friday, and the Vikings have a plethora of ends in reserve with Griffen moving back to the line and D'Aundre Reed and Nick Reed as players likely to make the final cut. Christian Ballard is also a valuable swing man between tackle and end, depending on the down-and-distance situation. With those nine they can survive, but it wouldn't be surprising to see them seek out another tackle on waivers.
The projection—Robison, Williams, Guion, Allen, Griffen, D. Reed, Ballard, Evans, N. Reed (9).
LINEBACKER (10, 5)
The players—Chad Greenway, Jasper Brinkley, Erin Henderson, Tyrone McKenzie, Marvin Mitchell, Audie Cole, Solomon Elimimian, Larry Dean, Tyler Nielsen, Corey Paredes.
The outlook—This where things could get tricky after the starting three and Marvin Mitchell. They kept five last year, but with the uncertainty of Brinkley's health and performance and some talent worth developing in McKenzie, Dean and Cole, this could come down to a numbers game and how much they contribute on special teams. Dean is the best of the backups on special teams, but McKenzie also offers a big hitter there and more value on defense. Cole showed he has the talent to develop and Mitchell can be an immediate contributor.
The projection—Greenway, Brinkley, Henderson, McKenzie, Mitchell, Cole (6).
DEFENSIVE BACKS (17, 11)
The players—Antoine Winfield, Chris Cook, Harrison Smith, Mistral Raymond, Jamarca Sanford, Chris Carr, Josh Robinson, Brandon Burton, Zack Bowman, Marcus Sherels, Reggie Jones, Bobby Felder, Corey Gatewood, Robert Blanton, Eric Frampton, Andrew Sendejo, Chris Stroud.
The outlook—The first seven listed above – Winfield, Cook, Smith, Raymond, Sanford, Carr and Robinson – are virtual locks. After that, it comes down to special teams worth and other factors, like health. Sherels might make it because the other punt return options haven't proven to be reliable yet. If Frampton doesn't make it, it would be a blow to the special teams but he holds no real value as a safety and Sendejo can fill in at safety if necessary behind the top three. Bowman holds more special teams value than Burton, so that might be the difference if it comes down to those two. Blanton hasn't been able to show anything in training camp because of injury, so he could be headed for waivers and then the practice squad. Reggie Jones is an aggressive and intriguing cornerback, but he might need more consistency before he is given a chance in a regular season game.
The projection—Winfield, Cook, Smith, Raymond, Sanford, Carr, Robinson, Bowman, Sherels, Sendejo (10). We short the defensive backs one spot from last year's opening numbers to add a linebacker.
SPECIAL TEAMS (3, 3)
The players—K Blair Walsh, P Chris Kluwe, LS Cullen Loeffler.
The outlook—Walsh has proven himself in training camp and the preseason, so there is no real danger of any of the three specialists getting replaced.
The projection—Walsh, Kluwe, Loeffler (3).
Reality says that three or four of the players we have making it could be replaced by waiver-wire pickups. Linebacker and defensive line seem like logical spots for that to happen, and maybe even a third running back instead of Hilliard.
The fact of the matter is that there is no one best way to shape the numbers, as teams adjust throughout a season because of injuries and borrow numbers from one position as a short-term fix at another position. For now, however, this is how we see it stacking up without knowing what will become available on the open market on Aug. 27 or Aug. 31.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Sunday slant: Four days, 40 roster moves
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