These are anxious times in NFL locker rooms around the league.
Nearly half the players that were on the roster last week won’t be seeing action in regular-season games. It’s NFL roster-trimming time and nearly 500 players won’t survive the cut from 90 players on a roster down to 75, moves that needed to be completed by 3 p.m. Tuesday.
Another wave of waiver wire transactions will be enacted after the preseason finales in the coming days. But Saturday night, rosters need to be down to 53 players.
The first step was surviving the initial purge that took place Sunday and Monday for 14 players with the Minnesota Vikings. Fourth-year player Allen Reisner, a perennial roster-fringe player since coming out of the University of Iowa, survived the first round.
“It always feels good. I think you kind of have a little bit of an idea, but you never really know,” he said. “Waiting around the phone until it happens, no call is the best thing, whatever happens.”
Reisner isn’t out of the dangerous woods yet. In addition to the Vikings needing one more roster move to get down to 75 players by Tuesday afternoon, they also activated another player at his tight end position off the physically unable to perform list, Chase Ford.
Still, survival for now is better than the alternative. Reisner has one more game to prove he belongs, the preseason finale at the Tennessee Titans. That’s a game that players on the roster bubble typically see a lot of playing time.
“It’s the same as I have the first three games of the preseason. You’ve got to show up on film. You’ve got to play well and compete,” said Reisner, who already had three touchdowns in preseason action.
“It’s going to be the same anxiety as in the first game. You’ve got to just compete. You’ve got to get better. You’ve got to improve each week that you’re learning the offense more and more. And that you’re doing it on the practice field and taking it to the game field.”
Receiver Adam Thielen can relate, too. He experienced the highs and lows of an undrafted player trying to make a living in the NFL.
Following the 2013 NFL draft, Thielen received a call from the Vikings inviting him to their rookie minicamp. It was the longest of longshots. He was drafted and he didn’t have a contract, unlike the more than dozen undrafted rookies the Vikings sign every year on the final night of the draft.
In Thielen’s case, all he wanted was an opportunity, no matter how long his odds were of making the team.
“Going into this whole thing, that was my goal, just to get an opportunity to show what I could do, and when I had the chance to come in and get the tryout with the minicamp, I was excited and I was ready to go out and show what I could do,” he said.
“It wasn’t overwhelming. It was just another chance to go play football and that’s kind of how I approached it. Looking back at it, I’m glad that’s how I did it because it’s easy to get caught up in things. It was just one of those things it was another chance to go play football. I wasn’t nervous. I just wanted to show what I could do.”
Thielen didn’t end up on the 53-man roster, meaning he had to go through the process of getting cut and clear waivers before he could be added back to the practice squad, which was capped at eight players last year and increased to 10 players this year.
He was the only player on the practice squad for the entire season as others got released and some were promoted for stints on the 53-man roster. Throughout the process, he has kept a level head and tried to stick with his hometown team – he grew up in Detroit Lakes, Minn., and attended Minnesota State University, Mankato, home of the Vikings training camp.
“I remember watching preseason games as a little kid and seeing guys that were undrafted or guys that were making plays and it was so cool to see guys like that make the team,” Thielen said. “It would be awesome being a Vikings fan. It’s always been a goal of mine to play for the Vikings. It’s been a goal of mine since I’ve been a little kid.”
Unlike Thielen and Reisner, rookie offensive lineman Austin Wentworth is going through the process for the first time. He got called into duty suddenly on Saturday night when starting right tackle Phil Loadholt suffered an ankle injury. Wentworth gave up a sack that led to a safety on his second play, but overall has played well enough to have a chance at a roster spot, either on the practice squad or 53-man roster.
He admitted the process can mess with a player’s mind.
“You try not to think about it because it will get to your head,” Wentworth said. “I can tell you it makes you a little nervous, but it makes you a better player because you’re fighting out here to get better. It’s good to have competition.”
Even after the cutdown to 53 players is executed over the weekend, the 53-man roster is likely to ebb and flow with the addition of players that have been released from other teams. The evaluations on them are done by the scouting department under the control of general manager Rick Spielman, but Zimmer is going through the process for the first time as head coach.
“I’d like to keep a lot more defensive guys, but I’ve been through this a long time, too, and I’ve seen a lot of the same cuts and I’m no different than the assistant coaches. I feel a bond to a lot of these players because of how hard they’ve worked, how much they’ve put into it and if they don’t get a chance to play for us hopefully they get a chance to play for somebody else,” Zimmer said. “You’re always happy for the players when they get another opportunity with someone else.”
For some, the roster numbers at certain positions won’t allow them the space on the roster, but Reisner, likely in a battle with Ford and Mike Higgins for what might amount to one spot between the three of them, said he tries not to get caught up in the numbers game.
“You can hope all you want, but it doesn’t really matter,” he said. “You’ve just got to really show that you’re an asset, that you can help the team win because at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about and that’s what they really want.”
Zimmer said the lobbying for certain players will take place more in the near future than it did with the initial round of cuts. Still, for those that survived to this point, there is a certain sense of relief, even it does look like they will make the 53-man roster this year, as is the case with Thielen.
“It’s nice I didn’t get the call,” Thielen said, “but I try not to think about it and try to come out here today and get better at practice.”
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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