Coaches for the Minnesota Vikings have been taking the company line: They are relatively pleased with nearly every position on their roster. Sentiments like that have been coming up the last few weeks despite the team coming off a 3-13 season in 2011 and not being one of the top aggressors in free agency.
In some instances, their optimism can be explained, even if they need to have patience with the young roster that has been assembled.
At quarterback, they have a first-round pick (Christian Ponder) as their starter and a young, athletic quarterback (Joe Webb) who has shown he can be effective in spot duty behind Ponder. They even have the veteran mentor in Sage Rosenfels.
The tight end weapons are in place with picks spent in the second round (Kyle Rudolph) and fourth round (Rhett Ellison) over the last two years and the top free-agent commitment this year (John Carlson).
The starters and at least one versatile backup (Geoff Schwartz) are ready to go on the offensive line.
However, as the Vikings scour the waiver wire with their No. 3 spot in the claiming order secured until Sept. 25, they will be looking in particular at a few specific positions.
Wide receiver could be one of those areas. Last year, the Vikings kept five receivers at the beginning of the season, and with the three-game suspension to Jerome Simpson to start the 2012 season they will likely look to have five in addition to him. Percy Harvin is a lock and Michael Jenkins seems to have established himself as another reliable target for Ponder on the outside. As a fourth-round pick and possible punt returner, Jarius Wright would also seem safe for now, leaving two spots for three players – Devin Aromashodu, Emmanuel Arceneaux and Stephen Burton. A veteran option found on the waiver wire could emerge there, too, after head coach Leslie Frazier said no one separated himself from the receiver corps after the third preseason game.
Frazier was also critical of three backup running backs – Lex Hilliard, Matt Asiata and Derrick Coleman – that fumbled away possessions. Coleman was released on Saturday, leaving Hilliard, Asiata and Jordan Todman fighting for what is likely open spot on the depth chart after Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart.
Several times during the first six months of the year, general manager Rick Spielman mentioned the Vikings' No. 3 spot on the waiver wire, and at no time will that come into play more than later this week, when more than 700 roster moves will be made around the NFL as teams get to the NFL-mandated 53-man roster.
"I think you're always interested in upgrading if you can, if you think there is somebody that can help your football team get better," Frazier said. "I'm sure that in our conversations between Rick and I, that's something we always talk about if there is somebody out there that can upgrade your roster."
While the Vikings have a deep and relatively talented defensive line, there are questions about the second and third levels of the defense. Linebacker has been a position to watch throughout the offseason and training camp, both because of the relative inexperience among the starters after Chad Greenway and the lack of proven depth.
"(We) feel pretty good about it, but that's a position, along with a few others, that we'll look and see if we can upgrade if there is somebody that can make us better," Frazier said. "If not, we'll stand pat."
The Vikings might have trouble getting through their fourth and final preseason game at safety because of injuries and not wanting to expose starters too long in a game typically reserved for players on the roster bubble.
Rookie fifth-round pick Robert Blanton will get the start and see extensive time in his first preseason game after being held out of the first three because of a hamstring injury, but the Vikings were still considering the wisdom of exposing first-round pick Harrison Smith to another preseason game. The other probable starter next to Smith when the regular season begins, Mistral Raymond, has been dealing with lower back spasms and Andrew Sendejo won't play either because of an ankle sprain. That leaves only Blanton, Sanford and Eric Frampton, who hurt his groin Friday night but has been practicing this week.
However, with most of those injuries expected to be healed by the regular-season opener against Jacksonville on Sept. 9, Frazier indicated that safety isn't a likely waiver-wire target for the Vikings.
"If we can finish with the health of the guys we have, I think we're OK with the guys we have at safety, as long as we don't lose anybody long term," Frazier said. "The guys that are banged up right now; we expect to have those guys back by Jacksonville."
With the Vikings playing Thursday night and the final roster cuts around the league due by 8 p.m. Friday, Frazier, Spielman, assistant GM George Paton and the rest of the decision-makers will have to make quick work of the final decisions.
"We'll have to really be on it when we get back in the office and look at our roster and also what's going on around the league and see if there's some guys we may be interested in," Frazier said. "We'll have some long discussion on that Friday when we get back."
After Sept. 25, the Vikings' claiming spot on the league's waiver wire will be determined by their record in 2012, making the next month of moves an important time if they want to add veteran talent.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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