The Minnesota Vikings will close out their 2015 preseason Thursday night at Tennessee and, like most teams, they are unlikely to play most, if not all, of the starters. Those players have already assured themselves roster spots, so this week’s key matchup will involve the positions battles at the back end of the roster to determine how the 53-man roster will be constructed. They will all be in action against the Titans looking for the last chance to make an impression.
There are several positions up for grabs. Here is the breakdown of who to keep an eye on Thursday:
QUARTERBACK – The only question here is whether the Vikings will go with two quarterbacks (Teddy Bridgewater and Shaun Hill) or go with three, which would include rookie Taylor Heinicke or someone picked up who has recently been released.
RUNNING BACK – There are currently seven backs on the roster. Adrian Peterson, Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata are locks to make the roster. The question becomes how many running backs will make the final roster? Zach Line is the likely candidate if the Vikings opt to keep a fullback. The players on the bubble are backups DuJuan Harris and Dominique Williams. The Vikings have gone with four running backs before, so trimming spots here is quite likely.
WIDE RECEIVER – Teams typically keep five or six wide receivers on their 53-man roster and the Vikings seem to be loaded in terms of players with potential to be playmakers – Mike Wallace, Charles Johnson, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jarius Wright, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. If the Vikings keep six, it may well be those six, but there remains competition with Donte Foster, Ryan Whalen and Isaac Fruechte, but all of the latter remain longshots. It may boil down to whether the Vikings plan to keep five wideouts or six, which could come down to Thielen or Diggs if it’s only five.
TIGHT END – Teams typically keep three or four tight ends on the roster and the Vikings have four right now – Kyle Rudolph, Chase Ford, Rhett Ellison and rookie MyCole Pruitt. Pruitt has been sidelined with injuries during the preseason, but he is expected to have a role in the offense. Ford and Ellison have proved to be valuable component pieces that stepped up when Rudolph has been down with injuries, so the potential of all four making the roster is pretty strong.
OFFENSIVE LINE – The line has taken a hit with the loss of starter Phil Loadholt and backup tackle Carter Bykowski, who was gaining some steam as a potential backup to make the final roster. As things currently stand, the Vikings have just four tackles (or players listed as tackles on their depth chart) on the roster – Matt Kalil, T.J. Clemmings, rookie Austin Shepherd and international import Babatunde Aiyegbusi. Depending on their confidence in those four, especially the backups, the team may be scouring the waiver wire after the final cuts are made to find a backup tackle. At center, John Sullivan and versatile swingman Joe Berger are locks. At guard, the Vikings have Brandon Fusco and Mike Harris as the starters, but the backups are unproven and may end up being among the more difficult decisions as to who stays or who goes. David Yankey has proved inconsistent in his 18 months as a Viking and the rest of the backups are unproven – Tyrus Thompson, Isame Faciane, Zac Kerin and Bob Vardaro. There are likely only two spots available there, with Kerin the favorite among them, and the Vikings may be looking outside the organization here as well when the cuts arrive.
DEFENSIVE LINE – This could be the deepest position on the roster. Teams typically keep eight or nine defensive linemen and the Vikings are already at the lower end of that limit with defensive ends Everson Griffen, Brian Robison, Scott Crichton and Justin Trattou, and tackles Sharif Floyd, Linval Joseph, Tom Johnson and Shamar Stephen. With rookie Danielle Hunter expected to make the roster, barring an injury or a trade, the Vikings may have their nine spots already reserved. If a veteran is released to make it eight, Trattou is the most likely to be on the outside looking in.
LINEBACKER – This has been a position of weakness in previous years, but now the competition will be fierce. A 4-3 base defense typically reserves spots for six or seven linebackers and it appears clear that five of those are taken by Chad Greenway, Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Audie Cole and Gerald Hodges. The remaining spots are still being fought over and Thursday may end up being critical for players like Michael Mauti, Brandon Watts, Edmond Robinson and Brian Peters. A case can be made for each of the four.
SECONDARY – Defensive backs are not only important to the defense, but often on special teams as well. As many as 10 could end up making the roster, with a minimum of eight or nine. Placing Josh Robinson on the PUP list helped make the decisions a little easier, and Jabari Price will be suspended for the first two games. But there are still likely two positions that haven’t yet been decided. Four cornerbacks are likely penciled in on the roster – Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Terence Newman and Captain Munnerlyn – as are four safeties – Harrison Smith, Robert Blanton, Antone Exum and Andrew Sendejo. With eight spots likely locked down, the remaining roster spots are being fought for by cornerbacks Marcus Sherels and Josh Thomas and safeties Shaun Prater and Anthony Harris. The numbers game will bite some of these guys, so the Titans game will be the last chance to make a positive impression before the Saturday countdowns.
SPECIAL TEAMS – With the release of veteran long snapper Cullen Loeffler, the team appears set with kicker Blair Walsh, punter Jeff Locke and snapper Kevin McDermott.
Casual fans likely won’t have a lot of interest in Thursday night’s slate of games in the NFL, but for those on the bubble, it will be a matter of professional life or death, making this a critical matchup to watch for the 30 or so players who haven’t already locked down a roster spot.
Vikings’ positional roster assessments
Viking Update Top Stories
Pass protection fails Bradford, VikingsThe Minnesota Vikings still haven’t been able to solve their offensive line issues, a theme going back to last year, but Mike Zimmer and the players aren’t denying it. They have to…
Viking UpdateYesterday at 5:23 PM
Notebook: Bradford-Wentz duel fizzlesSunday's game between the Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles was supposed to be a marquee battle of quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Carson Wentz. Instead, it was a long day…
Viking UpdateYesterday at 3:39 PM
Vikings record-seekers vs. EaglesThe Minnesota Vikings’ loss was littered with mistakes, but a few players worked their way up in the franchise record book.
Viking UpdateYesterday at 3:14 PM
WATCH: Vikings vs. Eagles highlightsHighlights, or really lowlights for Minnesota Vikings fans, as they drop their first game of the season, 21-10, to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Viking UpdateYesterday at 2:57 PM
Zimmer on Vikings loss: ‘Embarrassing’The Minnesota Vikings’ undefeated season came to an abrupt end in a overwhelming 21-10 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday.
Viking UpdateYesterday at 2:33 PM