Cutdown Surprises, Personnel Notes

As the Vikings trim their roster to the league-mandated 53 players, there are a few surprises and interesting notes involving those who were on the bubble (and those who weren't cut but showed some negatives in the preseason).

The Vikings had no choice. They had to cut their roster from 65 players (plus NFL Europe exemptions) to 53 players (without any NFL Europe exemptions) by 3 p.m. Sunday. The got a head start on that Saturday. Some players cut themselves, as head coach Mike Tice says. Others are the victims of the numbers game.

In the end, there were a number of surprising cuts Saturday.

The Vikings released safeties Tyrone Carter and Oliver Celestin, cornerbacks Derek Ross, Horace Willis and Jermaine Mays, wide receivers Ben Nelson, Ryan Hoag and Lane Danielsen, running back Butchie Wallace, center Billy Conaty; and guard Anthony Herrera, and long snapper Brody Liddiard..

Who are the surprises there?

Tyrone Carter: First, a hesitancy with safety Willie Offord makes Carter's release surprising. Carter had the propensity to get into Tice's doghouse in his first go-round with the Vikings, but Tice had said he thought Carter was a different, more mature player in his return after spending last year with the New York Jets. Carter suffered an injury in the preseason and might not have been available until October anyway. If he isn't picked up, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Minnesota go after him when healthy again.

Even more probable is the heavy scouring of the waiver wire to find a veteran safety to plug in behind Brian Russell and Corey Chavous.

Derek Ross: Ross has been an intriguing cornerback prospect for years and stood a decent chance to beat out a few of the rookies and first-year players vying for a spot in the defensive backfield. According to one source well-connected in league circles, Ross' character is low, but he is a "talented player though." With the depth issues in the backfield, it was a surprise the Vikings didn't opt for Ross instead of the younger Rhett Nelson and Deandre' Eiland.

Ben Nelson: Nelson had come on strong in the last two preseason games. He appeared to catch and pass Lane Danielsen, but for now the Vikings could enter the season with five wide receivers. Nelson and/or Danielsen would be likely candidates for the practice squad.

Anthony Herrera: Herrera was an impressive rookie free agent from the first time he stepped on the field in minicamp. However, his play seemed to level off as training camp wore on and as Adam Goldberg came on strong. Goldberg and Adam Haayer will be the primary backups at guard and tackle, and Cory Withrow will be the primary backup at center. Herrera is a likely candidate for the practice squad if he clears waivers.

The talk before Thursday night's game was that tight end Jermaine Wiggins was playing for his roster spot, not just his starting spot. While that might have been a motivational tactic from Tice himself — he's been known to do that — it is clear that Wiggins didn't impress coaches as much as they would have liked. When they signed him as a key free agent in March, they were hoping he would be the next Byron Chamberlain, the good one that produced nicely for the Vikings, not the one that got lazy.

Wiggins went out and led all Vikings receivers Thursday and scored the first touchdown of the game. However, that still wasn't enough to easily drag him out of the doghouse. What probably did secure his roster spot is the knee injury to Richard Angulo, a waiver pickup last year from St. Louis. Angulo had a very solid training camp and was starting to push Wiggins for his spot. But his injury in Thursday's game landed him on injured reserve, ending his season and allowing Wiggins to retain his spot with the hopes he can earn it throughout the season.

That also all but seals up Richard Owens' spot on the roster. Owens rose through the ranks dramatically the last few weeks, and if the Vikings would have released him he quickly would have been snapped up by another team in the league. Instead, it looks like the Vikings will enter the season with Owens, a rookie free agent, and Jeff Dugan, a seventh-round draft pick, as the backups at tight end. Don't be surprised to see either Ben Steele or Sean Berton kept on speed dial or on the practice squad.

Did Larry Ned hurt or help his stock when he was the workhorse in Thursday night's preseason finale? On the positive side, he touched the ball 18 times and scored two touchdowns, but he did fumble once. Ball security was what led to his release last year after being spoken of highly during the early stages of training camp. Still, with the Vikings' uncertainty in the offensive backfield, Ned should be assured a spot on the roster, especially early in the year, when Michael Bennett will be out of action with a knee injury and Onterrio Smith is expected to serve a suspension at some point.

Marcus Robinson is returning to the practice field after nursing it for almost three weeks in training camp and preseason. Don't expect Robinson to run right into his No. 2 position. Tice has been frustrated with Robinson's ability to play with pain since early in training camp. However, with Robinson's ability to get deep and stretch the defense on the other side of Randy Moss, we expect Robinson will see plenty of time when he's able to be on the field.

What of Onterrio Smith. A source tells us that he stands a "better than 50-50" shot of being able to play in the season opener. However, as of Saturday morning, it still wasn't a sure thing. Smith will likely serve a four-game suspension for abusing the league's substance abuse policy. He was caught smoking marijuana "several times" in college and, according to a source, was about to be suspended by Oregon before entering the NFL Draft in 2003.

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