Preview: Vikings battle themselves in finale

The Vikings are playing the Houston Texans, but the competition is more internal than external as final roster dreams will be made and shattered by performances Thursday night. We look at some of the numbers games that will be playing out on the Vikings' roster.

If this was any other game – preseason or regular season – other than the last preseason game, the meeting with the Houston Texans would have been an excellent barometer as to where the Vikings are in terms of their progress in rebuilding the roster. The Texans are viewed as one of the favorites to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl after finally getting over the franchise hump of never finishing a season with a record better than .500 last year and raising eyebrows around the league. However, with the starters and maybe even some key reserves not expected to play Thursday, the preview of Thursday's game will be more internal than external.

With at least 22 roster cuts that will need to be made Friday, the Vikings will be posed with the annual problem of deciding who will stay and what players will be told that their dreams of making it in the NFL will end – at least as far as the Vikings are concerned.

Offensively, the Vikings are relatively set at key positions, but the final roster cuts will take a deep toll. Either Sage Rosenfels or McLeod Bethel-Thompson will have to go at quarterback. At running back, the only spots that are locked down belong to Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart. There will likely be only two other running backs kept on the final roster and there are five players that will be competing Thursday night for those precious roster spots – halfbacks Jordan Todman and Lex Hilliard and fullbacks Jerome Felton, Matt Asiata and Ryan D'Imperio.

The same is true at wide receiver. Percy Harvin is the main man and Jerome Simpson will have a spot reserved for him when his three-game suspension ends. But there are probably four spots available for the final cut-downs (one may have to go when Simpson returns). Michael Jenkins is a veteran receiver well-versed in the Bill Musgrave offense, so he likely will snag one of them. The final competition Thursday will be among Stephen Burton, rookie Jarius Wright, Devin Aromoshodu and Emmanuel Arceneaux for what will probably end up being three roster spots.

Depending on how the numbers fall, if the Vikings keep just three tight ends, that battle may already be done. Kyle Rudolph and John Carlson have spots locked up and rookie Rhett Ellison has likely shown enough to make the final roster. If the Vikings opt to keep a fourth tight end, the battle will be ongoing between Allen Reisner and Mickey Shuler.

On the offensive line, the Vikings are expected to keep as many as 10 linemen, but may go with nine, since Geoff Schwartz can play both guard and center. At the tackle spots, three players are competing for what may end up being one or two spots – Pat Brown, DeMarcus Love and Kevin Murphy. At guard, Charlie Johnson, Brandon Fusco and Schwartz are all likely dialed in, which leaves just one roster spot open. Chris DeGeare might be viewed as a front-runner over Austin Pasztor and Tyler Holmes, but none of them are assured of anything and will likely have some nervous moments around their phones Friday afternoon.

On the defensive side there are just as many questions for the last roster spots. At defensive end, three of the four spots have been claimed by Jared Allen, Brian Robison and Everson Griffen. There may only be one more roster spot available, which should make the battles heated, since second-year man D'Aundre Reed, six-year veteran Jeff Charleston and third-year man Nick Reed can all make a case that they should get the final spot. Things appear a little more clear-cut at defensive tackle, where four spots look to be locked up already (Kevin Williams, Letroy Guion, Fred Evans and Christian Ballard). That could be bad news for Chase Baker and Trevor Guyton, who appear to be long shots.

At linebacker, things appear to be set with Chad Greenway, Erin Henderson and Jasper Brinkley set as starters and Larry Dean, Marvin Mitchell and Audie Cole making a strong case to be the backups. If the position can squeeze out another roster spot, Tyrone McKenzie has the edge of Corey Paredes, but both will have to show up big Thursday night to make the case to keep them.

The big question on the defense is in the secondary. The Vikings are expected to keep about 10 defensive backs but currently have 15 on the roster and as many as seven of them will have to go. At cornerback, Antoine Winfield, Chris Cook and Josh Robinson are locks and Chris Carr and Marcus Sherels, given his special teams contributions, are likely to be strong considerations. The team will likely keep five or six cornerbacks, but it gets crowded with veteran Zack Bowman trying to hold off youngsters Brandon Burton, Reggie Jones and Bobby Felder. This could be a wild card in the final roster cuts. At safety, three of four positions may be set with Harrison Smith, Mistral Raymond and Jamarca Sanford likely to lock down spots. Eric Frampton offers special teams ability, but Robert Blanton and Andrew Sendejo are better options on defense.

While Thursday's game with Houston will provide the coaching staff a final chance to evaluate their own talent, even those who make the final roster may not be out of the woods. The Vikings will be closely monitoring the waiver wire and, if players become available that the Vikings believe would be an upgrade, they could make numerous waiver claims – given their poor 2011 record, the Vikings are No. 3 on the claiming order.

For most fans, Thursday's game won't have much bearing. You won't see Adrian Peterson or Jared Allen or Chad Greenway or Antoine Winfield and likely won't see anyone that is viewed as a lock to be a starter next week when things get started for real against Jacksonville. But for those who are clinging to life to make the Vikings roster, this will be the most important game of many of their lives, so it will have significance – even if casual fans likely won't recognize the names of many of the Vikings, much less the Texans.


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.



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Offensively, the Vikings are relatively set at key positions, but the final roster cuts will take a deep toll. Either Sage Rosenfels or McLeod Bethel-Thompson will have to go at quarterback. At running back, the only spots that are locked down belong to Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart. There will likely be only two other running backs kept on the final roster and there are five players that will be competing Thursday night for those precious roster spots – halfbacks Jordan Todman and Lex Hilliard and fullbacks Jerome Felton, Matt Asiata and Ryan D'Imperio. The same is true at wide receiver. Percy Harvin is the main man and Jerome Simpson will have a spot reserved for him when his three-game suspension ends. But there are probably four spots available for the final cut-downs (one may have to go when Simpson returns). Michael Jenkins is a veteran receiver well-versed in the Bill Musgrave offense, so he likely will snag one of them. The final competition Thursday will be among Stephen Burton, rookie Jarius Wright, Devin Aromoshodu and Emmanuel Arceneaux for what will probably end up being three roster spots. Depending on how the numbers fall, if the Vikings keep just three tight ends, that battle may already be done. Kyle Rudolph and John Carlson have spots locked up and rookie Rhett Ellison has likely shown enough to make the final roster. If the Vikings opt to keep a fourth tight end, the battle will be ongoing between Allen Reisner and Mickey Shuler. On the offensive line, the Vikings are expected to keep as many as 10 linemen, but may go with nine, since Geoff Schwartz can play both guard and center. At the tackle spots, three players are competing for what may end up being one or two spots – Pat Brown, DeMarcus Love and Kevin Murphy. At guard, Charlie Johnson, Brandon Fusco and Schwartz are all likely dialed in, which leaves just one roster spot open. Chris DeGeare might be viewed as a front-runner over Austin Pasztor and Tyler Holmes, but none of them are assured of anything and will likely have some nervous moments around their phones Friday afternoon. On the defensive side there are just as many questions for the last roster spots. At defensive end, three of the four spots have been claimed by Jared Allen, Brian Robison and Everson Griffen. There may only be one more roster spot available, which should make the battles heated, since second-year man D'Aundre Reed, six-year veteran Jeff Charleston and third-year man Nick Reed can all make a case that they should get the final spot. Things appear a little more clear-cut at defensive tackle, where four spots look to be locked up already (Kevin Williams, Letroy Guion, Fred Evans and Christian Ballard). That could be bad news for Chase Baker and Trevor Guyton, who appear to be long shots. At linebacker, things appear to be set with Chad Greenway, Erin Henderson and Jasper Brinkley set as starters and Larry Dean, Marvin Mitchell and Audie Cole making a strong case to be the backups. If the position can squeeze out another roster spot, Tyrone McKenzie has the edge of Corey Paredes, but both will have to show up big Thursday night to make the case to keep them. The big question on the defense is in the secondary. The Vikings are expected to keep about 10 defensive backs but currently have 15 on the roster and as many as seven of them will have to go. At cornerback, Antoine Winfield, Chris Cook and Josh Robinson are locks and Chris Carr and Marcus Sherels, given his special teams contributions, are likely to be strong considerations. The team will likely keep five or six cornerbacks, but it gets crowded with veteran Zack Bowman trying to hold off youngsters Brandon Burton, Reggie Jones and Bobby Felder. This could be a wild card in the final roster cuts. At safety, three of four positions may be set with Harrison Smith, Mistral Raymond and Jamarca Sanford likely to lock down spots. Eric Frampton offers special teams ability, but Robert Blanton and Andrew Sendejo are better options on defense. While Thursday's game with Houston will provide the coaching staff a final chance to evaluate their own talent, even those who make the final roster may not be out of the woods. The Vikings will be closely monitoring the waiver wire and, if players become available that the Vikings believe would be an upgrade, they could make numerous waiver claims – given their poor 2011 record, the Vikings are No. 3 on the claiming order. For most fans, Thursday's game won't have much bearing. You won't see Adrian Peterson or Jared Allen or Chad Greenway or Antoine Winfield and likely won't see anyone that is viewed as a lock to be a starter next week when things get started for real against Jacksonville. But for those who are clinging to life to make the Vikings roster, this will be the most important game of many of their lives, so it will have significance – even if casual fans likely won't recognize the names of many of the Vikings, much less the Texans. 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