Sunday slant: Sunday's showdowns to watch

At each stage of Sunday night's game against the San Francisco 49ers, there are intriguing players when it comes to personnel decisions. From starting roles to those just looking to avoid "The Turk," we list the top players to watch, with insight from the coaches. Plus, some scoops on roster procedures that will affect the number of cuts and the salary cap.

Preseason game No. 3 is mostly about getting the first-team offense and defense in a rhythm as the "dress rehearsal" for the regular-season opener.

But with roster cuts due on Tuesday (the Vikings may make theirs on Monday), the personnel decision-makers need to make final evaluations on more than a dozen players (see Quick Slants below) before the fourth preseason game. Most of the starters – sans Adrian Peterson – will get to play a series or two into the third quarter. After that, it's a final chance to make a positive impression for several players that have had limited snaps in the preseason.

Vikings coaches, scouts and general manager Rick Spielman talked about the amount of time they want to see out of specific players Sunday night.

"You want to get those guys a look that you think have a chance of making your ball club as you're trying to get these views in the last couple weeks," head coach Leslie Frazier said. "For guys on the verge of potentially being one of those 75 might make it (past Tuesday), you definitely want to be sure you get them in the ballgame. We've got some decisions to make here based on this ballgame and what they've done through training camp and the offseason. It's a big game for a lot of guys."

Later, Frazier added: "You're trying to balance what you need to get out of your starters in this ballgame as well."

With that balancing act in mind, here are some of the main storylines to follow as Sunday night's showdown unfolds:

  • With the starters set on offense, there is only one real question with the first-team offense when it comes to personnel: How much will first-round pick Cordarrelle Patterson be involved with the first-team offense, and in what ways? The answers, if Friday's practice was any indication, are a decent amount and in various roles. Patterson still isn't used much in two-receiver sets – those are reserved mostly for Greg Jennings and Jerome Simpson – but with Jarius Wright out with a concussion, Patterson and Stephen Burton were taking turns in three-receiver situations. As for the matter of how he will be used, his versatility has the Vikings feeling confident about sending him across the middle and letting him try to wiggle loose, sending him deep and letting him out-jump and out-muscle a defensive back, and sending him behind the formation on end-arounds.

  • The questions with the first-team defense are a little more pressing and pronounced. Linebacker is chief among them. This is Desmond Bishop's shot to earn a starting spot. Although the theory that his roster spot is precarious seems to be overplayed, he is battling to beat out Marvin Mitchell as the starter on the weak side.

    "He played well. There were some plays that he played downhill and he had some good tackles and I think if you talk with him, he'll tell you there are some plays that he left out on the field, which can be expected with the first extensive full action he had," defensive coordinator Alan Williams said of Bishop's first preseason action against Buffalo. "What we're looking to see is if he can improve on the things that he didn't do so well and correct those and get better.

    "You want to see if a guy can execute with good on good. I think that's one of the things that we'll try to do is make sure that the guys we're looking at get good on good. Believe me, the 49ers have enough depth in their roster that we're going to get good on good with our first group."

    Williams indicated he wants to see how Bishop performs with the first-team base defense, but he will be the linebacker coming off the field when San Francisco trots out three receivers and the Vikings counter with an extra defensive back.

  • Who will win the starting job at left cornerback in the base defense? That remains a two-horse race between Josh Robinson and Xavier Rhodes. So far, Robinson has the edge. Frazier said Robinson is calming down a bit with more experience.

    "Sometimes he can get so hyper about what he's trying to get done that he begins to overthink things and he's begun to relax a little bit," Frazier said. "Part of that is we put him in a lot of different situations in practice, trying to get him in some situations in games as well. So it is not the first time he sees things when we line up in Detroit (in the regular season opener). I think just the fact that he has slowed down mentally and begun to relax a little bit as a player is probably where the growth has come the most."

    Rhodes is looking the part of the typical rookie first-rounder. The talent is there; so is the inconsistency.

    "He did some good things there (against Buffalo), but there were some other things that when we looked at the tape and he looked at it as well, that he'll have to get better on as we approach the regular season," Frazier said. "That was his first chance to get some live action, to get a feel of the speed of the game in a game situation. There were some good things, but there were definitely some things that he'll have to work on to get better. He'll get that chance this week against a very good offense in San Francisco and on the road again."

    Like Bishop, Rhodes didn't play in the preseason opener because of injury, but the rookie has to be careful not to get too aggressive and get beat on double moves over the top when he's too focused on jamming a receiver or jumping a route. That happened more than it should have in training camp.

  • On special teams, the primary question is who will win punt return duties. Marcus Sherels has been old reliable there – a mainstay with sure hands and a few moves but not much in the line of long speed. Bobby Felder is the new challenger to Sherels' job. He has the explosiveness, but does he engender enough confidence from special teams coordinator Mike Priefer when it comes to ball security?

    "I feel comfortable with him getting a shot, sure," Priefer said. "And Marcus knows. Marcus is great about it. He knows he has to win the job. And you know Marcus. Everybody in here knows Marcus and his attitude and his work ethic and how he's overcome a lot of adversity. So he always welcomes that challenge and he's got to go out and prove himself again."

  • As the game moves late into the third quarter, one of the positions to watch is defensive tackle with Sharrif Floyd out with a knee injury and Christian Ballard's roster spot very much in jeopardy since being placed on the active/left squad list (see below). But another position to watch is running back. Peterson, Toby Gerhart and Jerome Felton all have strangleholds on their roles, but the Vikings may have one final spot for guys like Matt Asiata, Joe Banyard and Zach Line to battle over.

    "It is a good competition between those guys. Matt Asiata has been with us for a whole year and has done a good job for us, but Joe had a good run last week against Buffalo," Frazier said. "Bradley (Randle) has done a good job for us as well, so we will see how it all plays out for us. We are going to give those guys some snaps Sunday night, along with our final preseason game and try to make a good decision."

  • Likewise, the backup offensive linemen need to get sorted out. Brandon Keith appears to be a solid veteran choice to back up Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt at the tackles, and rookie Travis Bond can play both guard and tackle. While veteran Joe Berger is likely to win the job as the backup center and guard, rookie Jeff Baca could be the next in line behind him. Pay attention to the rotation after the starters Sunday night and it could be a clue to who the final linemen on the 53-man roster are going to be.


  • You have to wonder about the status of Ballard at this time. Frazier has been vague about why Ballard decided to leave the team after the two of them talked. Whatever the trouble is with Ballard, it's possible the Vikings are simply hoping to trade him before the regular season starts.

  • The Vikings list Ballard on the "active/left squad" list. However, the NFL listed him on the "exempt/left squad" list. In other words, the team got an exemption for his roster spot but elected not to use it to add another player. That means the team only has to release 14 players in their initial roster paring by Tuesday afternoon.

  • CB Jacoby Lacey cleared injury waivers, but the Vikings likely won't have to reach an injury settlement with him like they did earlier this month with LB Nathan Williams. Because Lacey came to the Vikings with an injury history, there were provisions placed in his contract to protect the team if they needed to release him because of injury.

    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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