The Vikings have scoured the waiver wire, brought in numerous free agents for tryouts in the past month and come to this conclusion more often than not: Our rookies and inexperienced players are better than what is out there on the veteran free agent market.
Despite losing cornerback Dovonte Edwards, linebacker Chad Greenway, safety Tank Williams and defensive end Erasmus James to season-ending injuries, the Vikings have signed relatively few replacements, especially ones of the experienced variety.
The only move the Vikings made to counteract the Greenway injury was to promote Heath Farwell on the depth chart and sign former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Marquis Cooper, the only linebacker they have worked out this in September, six days before the regular-season opener.
The Vikings haven't worked out any defensive backs since the season started, a somewhat surprising fact considering the Williams and Edwards injuries, and they simply promoted from within when it came to adjusting to the loss of James.
In fact, the position that the Vikings have been seeking the most is wide receiver, where the release of Koren Robinson after his training camp arrest seems to have the team searching hardest. The Vikings have worked out at least seven wide receivers since Sept. 1, but out of those they only signed former Eagle Todd Pinkston before releasing him one week later.
His release left open the door to sign WR Maurice Mann from Seattle's practice squad on Sept. 9, the same day of Pinkston's release.
Mann, who was bounced around the league from Miami to Cincinnati to Seattle since 2004 before signing with the Vikings, got his first regular-season action Sunday against the Chicago Bears.
"I was excited out there and try to do everything I could to help out. Unfortunately, I had one little discrepancy with the holding call. Besides that, I think I did a pretty good job," Mann said. "I'd like to say I helped other people when they got open. Anything I can do to help out this team, I'm willing to do that."
Mann was told on Friday and Saturday that he should be ready in case the Vikings deactivated Marcus Robinson, who had struggled with a hamstring injury against Carolina on Sept.17 but had practiced all week, and Mann did end up seeing playing time on offense, although he never had a pass thrown his way.
"I wouldn't say (I was) nervous, just a little more anxious. It was three years and coming and this was my first game. I was excited to get out there and mix it up with the guys a little bit," he said.
Robinson will be available for Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills, according to head coach Brad Childress, so Mann might rejoin the inactive list, but he was among those young, inexperienced players the Vikings are relying on to cover for their injured veterans this season.
Another player like that is defensive end Jayme Mitchell, who was promoted to the 53-man roster last week when the team placed Erasmus James on injured reserve.
As he predicted to Viking Update last week, Mitchell was active on Sunday and got into the game for three or four meaningful snaps in addition to the game-ending kneeldowns by Chicago at the end of the game.
"I had a chance to rush two or three times, but I didn't get a chance to really pin my ears back. There was a lot of play-action – I got a play-action pass one time and got a quick set one time," said Mitchell, who backed up Darrion Scott on the left side.
While Mitchell was an undrafted free agent that started the season on the practice squad, second-round draft pick Cedric Griffin got his first NFL start Sunday. Griffin started in place of Fred Smoot, who was apparently benched for the first series for disciplinary reasons.
"That was a game-time situation deal," Griffin said of learning of his first start.
Griffin has played on defense and special teams in all three games this season, but he registered his first defensive tackles Sunday, getting two of them.
"I get more comfortable and more comfortable every time I play," he said. "I feel I'm getting better every day, more in practice than in games. I'm getting more reps in practice than in games. That's where I'm developing my game so I can transfer it over to the playing field."
If the Vikings' lack of aggression in signing available free agents is any indication, it appears that the roster reshuffling done this off-season has helped form a deeper team at the lower levels of the roster. And the younger contingent of reserves is providing that depth with increasing roles.