Friday and Saturday aren't days dedicated strictly to game-planning for the Atlanta Falcons. First, the Minnesota Vikings need figure out which players will be wearing purple for the regular-season opener on Sept. 9.
That process takes shape with final evaluations and then roster cuts this weekend. Rick Spielman, the team's vice president of player personnel, told Viking Update Thursday night that they won't make their cuts until Saturday.
With that in mind, we offer our projections on who makes the 53-man roster and who doesn't. Keep in mind that younger players are eligible to be called back on the practice squad if they clear waivers.
Note: The first number in parentheses is the number of players on the roster at that position at the conclusion of the 2006 season. The second number is our projection for how many the Vikings will keep at that position to start this year.
QUARTERBACK (3, 3)
This is the easiest position to figure out. Tarvaris Jackson is the unquestioned starter, Kelly Holcomb likely will be the No. 2 guy once he knows the offense and Brooks Bollinger should be kept around as insurance. Rookie Tyler Thigpen will come back on the practice squad if he clears waivers.
Making it: Jackson, Holcomb, Bollinger.
Looking for work: Thigpen (who will come back on the practice squad if he clears waivers, according to head coach Brad Childress).
RUNNING BACK (6, 6)
The numbers game starts here, and so do semantics when defining which players will be registered under the fullback position and which ones will be counted as tight ends. On the roster, Jeff Dugan is listed as a tight end even though he has spent all of his practice and game time at fullback since Tony Richardson's season-ending injury last year. So for these purposes, we designate Dugan into the running back numbers this year, but realize he gives the Vikings some flexibility to lower the number of tight ends they keep this year.
Richardson is the starting fullback and Dugan is needed as insurance behind him and for special teams support, putting Naufahu Tahi on the outside looking in, but he might be practice squad eligible. Chester Taylor and Adrian Peterson are locks at tailback, and Mewelde Moore's return abilities and special wiggle as a third-down back make him too valuable to deal. That leaves a battle between Artose Pinner and Ciatrick Fason for the final spot, and it appears clear to us that Pinner is ahead of Fason, who hasn't gotten many chances to strut his stuff this preseason but hasn't been that impressive when he has.
Making it: Richardson, Dugan, Taylor, Peterson, Moore, Pinner.
Looking for work: Ciatrick Fason, Naufahu Tahi.
WIDE RECEIVER (6, 6)
Ten receivers are vying for what will probably be six spots again this year. The top four spots are set, with Bobby Wade, Sidney Rice, Troy Williamson and Robert Ferguson all capable of being used in larger roles or limited action in any particular contest. They are each very different in their skill sets, but that's not all bad. Rookie Aundrae Allison also appears poised to win a roster spot and potentially be the kickoff returner. That would leave one position for five contenders.
Jason Carter and Chandler Williams might not have enough separation ability to experience long-term success in the league, and Williams' main hope was to become a bigger factor on special teams. Cortez Hankton, while a bit more experienced, hasn't seemed to show enough in the preseason to warrant a position. Which brings the battle for one spot down to two players, in our estimation – Billy McMullen and Martin Nance. This might be one of the most excruciating decisions for the coaching and personnel staffs. McMullen offers a bigger body, more experience in Childress' system and more polish. Nance has been steady when called upon in the preseason and showed good hands. Childress could pick McMullen for the familiarity factor, but we'll pick Nance.
Making it: Wade, Rice, Williamson, Ferguson, Allison, Nance.
Looking for work: Williams, Carter, Hankton, McMullen
TIGHT END (4, 3)
Last year, the Vikings kept four tight ends at the end of the season, but Dugan was listed among them. This year, we put Dugan in the running back category, where he is used, and project the team only keeping three tight ends in that scenario in order to give them another roster spot on the defensive side of the ball.
The first two are easy decisions – Jim Kleinsasser for his blocking ability and Visanthe Shiancoe for his upside as a receiver. Up until the final preseason game, it seemed like Stephen Spach was out the door. But, despite a solid showing against the Cowboys, we still take Childress at his word that the decisions will be made more on the body of work during the offseason and preseason, thereby giving the edge to the more versatile Richard Owens.
One note here: We think that if the Vikings hadn't put Braden Jones on injured reserve earlier this week, he would have made the final roster and either forced the team to keep four tight ends again or cut Owens in favor of Jones' long-term possibilities.
Making it: Shiancoe, Kleinsasser, Owens.
Looking for work: Spach.
OFFENSIVE LINE (9, 9)
The starters on the left side are set, with Bryant McKinnie at tackle, Steve Hutchinson at guard and Matt Birk at center. Ryan Cook will almost certainly be the starting right tackle, and the thinking here is that Childress will decide on Artis Hicks as the starter at right guard. Nevertheless, Anthony Herrera (guard) and Marcus Johnson (tackle) will still make the roster. That gives the Vikings seven so far.
We see a real possibility that the other two roster spots on the offensive line could come from players that are cut by other teams. However, for these purposes, we choose Norm Katnik to back up Birk at center and a battle waged between tackle Chase Johnson and guard Brian Daniels for that final spot. Both of those undrafted rookies seem like strong candidates for the practice squad but not the active roster. But, in order to fill out the numbers here, we'll choose Daniels.
Making it: McKinnie, Hutchinson, Birk, Herrera, Hicks, Cook, Marcus Johnson, Katnik, Daniels.
Note: Seppo Evwaraye gets a special NFL exemption to go onto the practice squad as part of a program to promote development of international players.
Looking for work: Chase Johnson, Kyle Cook, Jimmy Martin.
DEFENSIVE LINE (8, 8)
The mass of potential starters here nearly fills up the roster in a hurry. The starting line likely will be Kenechi Udeze, Pat Williams, Kevin Williams and Ray Edwards. The players simply too good to cut are Darrion Scott, Erasmus James and Brian Robison, which leaves one opening that has to be at tackle. If Fred Evans isn't headed for the suspended list for his legal issues, then he is the favorite to make the opening-day roster. But, if NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is ready to hand down a suspension to Evans to start the season, Howard Green should get the shot to contribute inside. We'll assume Evans isn't suspended and award him the final roster spot.
The numbers game makes it a tough cut for end Jayme Mitchell, who shows all kinds of promise to become a solid backup in the league, and tackle Spencer Johnson, who has been a solid backup. Khreem Smith is also left to fend for a job elsewhere, while tackle Conrad Bolston could be a player to call back on the practice squad.
Making it: Udeze, Pat Williams, Kevin Williams, Edwards, Scott, James, Robison, Evans.
Looking for work: Spencer Johnson, Green, Mitchell, Smith, Bolston.
LINEBACKER (6, 6)
The starters are set with Chad Greenway, E.J. Henderson and Ben Leber. The primary backup is a no-brainer with Dontarrious Thomas. Even the final two spots seem like relatively easy decisions, with Vinny Ciurciu and Heath Farwell too good on special teams to give up.
Making it: Greenway, Henderson, Leber, Thomas, Ciurciu, Farwell.
Looking for work: George Hall, David Herron.
Note: Look for the Vikings to potentially scour the wire for a practice squad guy at this position.
DEFENSIVE BACK (8, 9)
Last year, the Vikings finished the season with eight defensive backs, but because defensive backs are often big contributors on special teams and because we have them keeping one fewer tight end, this position gets bumped up to nine players on our final roster countdown.
The starters seem set with Antoine Winfield and Cedric Griffin on the corners and Darren Sharper and Dwight Smith at safety. Rookie Marcus McCauley has secured a position in the nickel defense, and it appears Dovonte Edwards will be involved in the dime coverage scheme. That's six roster spots taken, and we haven't even gotten to the backup safeties.
Because of health concerns with both Tank Williams and Mike Doss, we see the younger Greg Blue sticking along with one of the two others – we're giving the edge to Doss because of his familiarity with Leslie Frazier and maybe being a little better in pass coverage. Leaving any of the three backup safeties behind will be a tough decision, especially for a quality guy like Williams, and that might mean they keep all three backups. But in order to do that, they would have to leave behind a player like Charles Gordon, who is still adjusting to the NFL game at cornerback but also shows some promise as a return man. Our money says they keep Gordon as insurance at cornerback and let either Williams or Doss go. We say Doss stays.
Making it: Winfield, Griffin, Sharper, Smith, McCauley, Edwards, Blue, Doss, Gordon.
Looking for work: Tank Williams, Patrick Body, Ronyell Whitaker.
SPECIAL TEAMS (3, 3)
Unless the Vikings would decide to pick up another punter off waivers, these three positions are locked down with Chris Kluwe punting, Ryan Longwell kicking and Cullen Loeffler snapping.
Some of the positions, like defensive line and defensive back, will experience some very tough cuts. Other positions, like linebacker, quarterback and running back, seem pretty cut and dried. But the X factor will be the players made available by other teams, which is one reason Spielman said the Vikings will wait to make their decisions on Saturday.
Roster Projections, Evaluations, Comments
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