Vikings: Offensive Roster Projections

The Vikings have to trim their roster to 53 players by no later that 4 p.m. Saturday. They might make their required massive purge as early as Friday, so we use Philadelphia and Green Bay as models to help shape the offensive roster in the West Coast system as we project who will go and who will stay, with a number of offensive units holding some tight battles for roster spots.

There are seemingly limitless ways to shape an NFL roster.

The league mandates that all teams must trim their rosters to 53 players by 4 p.m. Central on Saturday, but many teams will beat the deadline by 24 hours or more. That means the Vikings could release 22 or more players as early as Friday morning after their last hurrah in purple Thursday night against Dallas.

Today, we focus on the offense and the players we feel have the best chance of survival on the active roster. Using the Green Bay Packers, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell's former employer, and the Philadelphia Eagles, head coach Brad Childress' NFL learning center, as our guides to shaping offensive rosters, we get a better picture of the numbers involved at each unit since both systems employed the West Coast offense last year.

Defensively, we figured Wednesday that the Vikings would keep about 24 players. With three specialists (snapper, kicker and punter) reserved, that leaves 26 roster spots for offensive players. Here are Viking Update's offensive projections:

OFFENSE

QUARTERBACK (Philly 3, Green Bay 3)


1. Brad Johnson – In his 15th season, he's still adept at managing the offense and getting enough out of it to play winning football. No questions there as long as he stays healthy.

2. Tarvaris Jackson – Before the Vikings' trade on Thursday, he was almost certainly entering the season as the No. 2 quarterback, as Mike McMahon didn't play on Thursday night in Dallas. Jackson has been impressive in all three preseason games and doesn't look the part of a rookie from a Division I-AA school.

3. Brooks Bollinger – The Vikings didn't give up C.J. Mosley and an undisclosed draft pick for nothing. Bollinger could be a poor man's Brad Johnson, solid at managing a game even if he isn't putting up 300-yard game. As he learns the offense, he should quickly ascend to No. 2 on the depth chart, at least early in the year, as a veteran presence.




4. J.T. O'Sullivan – The trade for Bollinger and another uninspired performance Thursday night will likely send him to the waiver wire.

5. Mike McMahon – His preseason struggles – going 4 for 16 – would seem to put him on the outside looking in.


RUNNING BACKS (Philly 4, Green Bay 3)

1. Chester Taylor – Despite struggling to find any openings so far, Taylor will enter the season as the No. 1 running back as long as he's healthy.

2. Ciatrick Fason – Like Taylor, Fason has been unable to find much room to run. While Taylor's average dropped to 1.8 yards per carry against Dallas, Fason averaged a more respectable 3.3.

3. Mewelde Moore – He hasn't been able to stay healthy throughout his previous two seasons, and this preseason has been no different, giving Fason an opportunity to pass him on the depth chart.

4. Wendell Mathis – So far, the Fresno State alumnus has been the most productive back, averaging 4.3 yards per carry enter Thursday's game. It would be hard to trust him with protections early in the season, but unless the Vikings acquire another running back via the waiver wire or a trade, they might have to choose between Mathis and Echemandu.




5. Adimchinobe Echemandu – "Joe" looked to have a shot at carving out a few years as a backup under the previous coaching staff, but he didn't have much of an opportunity to put moves on film this year until Thursday's game. His 3.5 yards per carry put him back into competition with Mathis.


FULLBACKS (Philly 1, Green Bay 2)

1. Tony Richardson – He was hired and paid like a starter during free agency, and he's played like a starter so far. While there is almost certainly a getting-to-know-you period with the offensive line, Richardson is expected to be a driving force for Taylor once the regular season gets underway.




2. Steven Jackson – Because of Jackson's lack of experience as a rookie and the fact that Philadelphia ended the 2005 season with only one active fullback, it seems that Jackson's best shot is on the practice squad. In that case, he would likely be promoted to the 53-man roster only if Richardson were hurt or another team started acting like they were ready to sign him to its 53-man roster.


WIDE RECEIVERS (Philly 6, Green Bay 5)

1. Troy Williamson – With the release of Koren Robinson, Williamson will be looked upon as the team's top deep threat and maybe its No. 1 overall option. A breakout year for the formerly raw speedster could be in order.

2. Travis Taylor – Probably the Vikings' best route runner, Taylor could lead the team – or at least the wide receivers – in receptions and put up his best season as a pro.

3. Marcus Robinson – Before the release of Koren Robinson, some wondered if Marcus would be a roster casualty entering his 10th NFL season. That seems remote at best now with the lack of experience at the position. Marcus just seemed to perform whenever called upon last year and is a strong locker-room presence.

4. Jason Carter – At one point, he was a longshot to make the roster, but ever since the pads went on, the balls have been finding their way into Carter's hands, whether that is as a second-tier receiver or a starting punt returner. While the rookie free agent likely won't see much action on offense early on, he should make the roster despite a lackluster showing Thursday night.

5. Billy McMullen – With limited options before the rest of the cuts become available, McMullen seems likely to survive the team's cut to 53 players, but that could change after they get a look at an extensive waiver wire on Friday and Saturday. McMullen has experience in Childress' system going for him.

6. Kevin Kasper – Had he not suffered a high ankle sprain and been able to maintain an average anywhere close to his preseason-opening 35.5 yards per kickoff return, Kasper would have made the roster for his quickness on special teams. The saying goes, "You can't make the club in the tub," but the Vikings' wide receiver options are limited. Kasper might not make the cutdown to 53 because of his ankle sprain, but he should be kept on speed dial for his return ability when he gets completely healthy. He could also get knocked out of the 53-man roster if the Vikings trade for a wide receiver.




7. Josh Davis – He has been productive when given the chance in the later stages of games in the preseason, but he doesn't seem to have a good shot at making the active roster. The practice squad is a possibility for him.

8. Chris Jones – At one point, in minicamps and early in training camp, Jones appeared to have a shot at maintaining his roster position, even with Koren Robinson on the squad. Now, he seems like a longshot after a relatively quiet preseason.

9. Ryan Hoag – The coaches and Brad Johnson keep saying that Ryan Hoag, the former Mr. Irrelevant, can run all day, but speed alone doesn't get receivers a contributing role in a West Coast offense. The former Gustavus Adolphus standout might have to find employment at a lower level of football.


TIGHT ENDS (Philly 4 with long snapper included, Green Bay 2)

1. Jermaine Wiggins – Wiggins may not be a stretch-the-field tight end that the West Coast offense can use, but he never seems to have a problem getting open in the seams of the defense. He could be the team's leading receiver again this year.

2. Jim Kleinsasser – The Vikings are working to get their top two tight ends to be more versatile, and for Kleinsasser that could mean more receptions. He's already sufficient at catching the outlet passes in the flats, but he probably won't ever be a guy to get downfield. With his blocking ability, however, he's still a very valuable starter.

3. Richard Owens – His versatility to be used as a tight end or H-back gives him a bit more value, but his real asset is on special teams, where he's a solid cover-teams guy and a good backup long snapper. If the Vikings only keep three tight ends, he'll be in a battle with Jeff Dugan.




4. Jeff Dugan – Owens seems to have the slight preseason edge on Dugan if the Vikings only keep three tight ends, but Dugan has the advantage as a blocking tight end. He has also been spending time working drills with the running backs, perhaps an indication that he could be used as an emergency fullback on the roster. Owens and Dugan will be in a battle with each other and a numbers game in their attempts to live for another NFL season.

5. Richard Angulo – The tall tight end was a favorite project of former head coach Mike Tice, and he's a big target in the passing game. But if the Vikings keep four or fewer tight ends, it looks like his days in purple could be done.


OFFENSIVE LINE (Philly 8, Green Bay 9)

1. Steve Hutchinson – The $49 million man is going nowhere except for possibly the Pro Bowl again this season. Use permanent pen when inking his spot at left guard.

2. Matt Birk – He is the unquestioned starter at center as long as he's healthy. But he's trying to knock back into the football mentality and learn a new offense. A surprise scratch from the starting lineup Thursday night had some concerned, but his roster shot is solid as long as his health is.

3. Bryant McKinnie – He seems to be on the verge of Pro Bowl recognition at left tackle, and the addition of Steve Hutchinson at left guard could help bring more recognition to McKinnie if the Vikings can figure out their run blocking.

4. Artis Hicks – Although it appears a switch to the right side of the line on a new team is taking some time, the Vikings have given no indication that Hicks' starting job is in jeopardy.

5. Marcus Johnson – He continues to progress as a starting right tackle in his second year in the league. He has room for improvement, but the starting job should be his the entire season.

6. Jason Whittle – As the only professionally experienced backup center on the roster, Whittle's job behind Birk assures him a roster spot.

7. Anthony Herrera – Last year, he broke into a starting role, and he appears to be the top backup at both guard spots this season.

8. Ryan Cook – His move to tackle during training camp indicates that Whittle is the definite No. 2 center. While Cook has a lot of adapting to do at tackle, the team will remain patient in developing a second-round draft pick.

9. Mike Rosenthal – His spot on the roster is somewhat precarious, but he appears to be in better form as the preseason continues. The fact that he's the Vikings' only real experienced backup tackle should land him a roster spot. He can also play guard in a pinch, which might be necessary if the team keeps only Herrera as a backup guard. There were indications late this week that his spot could be in jeopardy, which could mean a release or it could mean the Vikings would look to trade him.




10. Chris Liwienski – He has started 74 games in his Vikings career and is still a valuable backup, but the numbers game might just catch up with him. A quality player and locker room presence, Liwienski should have no problem finding a job elsewhere – possibly Arizona or St. Louis – if he is let go. In fact, if the team is thinking of releasing him, he would be worth dangling as trade bait. In his case, it's simply a numbers game, and it could come down to him or Herrera, who has five fewer years of wear and tear than Liwienski and a lesser contract.

11. Adam Goldberg – Another quality locker room presence, Goldberg's shift all along the offensive line may have hurt his ability to focus in and master one position. He has started 18 games over the past two years and is in a similar position as Liwienski. If he isn't with the Vikings next week, he should be with another team – again, Arizona and St. Louis being obvious landing pads with the coaching connections (Dennis Green and Steve Loney in Arizona, and Scott Linehan in St. Louis) to Minnesota.

12. Donald Penn – An obvious candidate for the practice squad, Penn has size (6-5, 305) and potential, he just needs time to develop as an undrafted rookie out of Utah State.

13. Jason Palermo – With Birk, Whittle and Cook all on the roster, Palermo doesn't stand much of a chance. It's possible the team could try to develop him on the practice squad, but he might just be more of a camp body.


SPECIAL TEAMS

All three specialists should be a lock for a roster position – Chris Kluwe at punter, Ryan Longwell at kicker and Cullen Loeffler at long snapper.


NOTES

Even if these rankings and numbers jive with those in the Vikings' personnel department, there is almost no chance all of the aforementioned players making the cut actually stay with the team. Why? Because the Vikings likely will be scanning the waiver wire and trade options hard to upgrade at certain positions, the most likely being wide receiver (at least looking for veteran depth), and maybe even running back without being able to count on Mewelde Moore staying healthy.

Their abundance of offensive linemen could help potential trade scenarios, with Rosenthal, Liwienski and Goldberg holding some level of trade value for a team thin on offensive line talent.

The roster will be trimmed by about one-third by Saturday night, but it remains to be seen exactly how that is all accomplished. Most likely, the 53-man roster will include a few additions from the outside before the Labor Day weekend passes.


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