Entering Friday's preseason finale, Darius Reynaud's roster status was squarely on the slippery bubble. The wide receiver had shown flashes in practices but had been limited in his preseason opportunities, sandwiched between starters trying to improve their timing with Brett Favre and lower receivers on the roster looking for any sliver of an opportunity to put their work on film.
On Friday, Reynaud was one of several Vikings that helped his chances to make the roster. In Reynaud's case, he exploded back into the competition for limited roster spots.
Reynaud provided an exclamation point – actually six points – on a second-quarter punt return. The Vikings had just taken their first lead of the game, 14-7, on their previous possession when Reynaud fielded a punt by Dallas.
He bounced off simultaneous hits from Jesse Holley and Scott Chandler on each side of him, found a small seam, hurdled another defender and then juked punter Matt McBriar on his way to an 81-yard punt return, the longest in Vikings preseason history.
"Right before that play, Adrian Peterson told me, ‘I got a funny feeling you're going to break this one.' When I caught it, I don't know how I broke two tackles. When I broke two tackles, I just used my ability to score a touchdown," Reynaud said.
Reynaud said he relied partly on his running back skills from days by gone by.
"Back in high school, I played running back and every time I get the ball in my hands I'm like a running back, so when I get it I just run," he said.
Reynaud finished the preseason tied for the team lead in receptions (eight) and second in receiving yards (123). And, yeah, that 81-yard punt return average looks gaudy. He also has a less-impressive 43 yards on two kickoff returns.
"He is a good football player. Not just a good receiver, he's a good football player," Vikings coach Brad Childress said. "You saw him return some balls. He runs down to cover on the kick team, he is a very good gunner, which is hard to play out there. We play in that vise out there. That's hand-to-hand combat. You saw him do some explosive things and I'm happy for him."
Cornerback Karl Paymah also improved his chances by rebounding from a somewhat rocky third preseason game in which his coverage was exploited at times. Paymah recorded three tackles, one for a loss, and looked a little tighter with his coverage as he battles for a role on defense and special teams.
"I just went out there trying to concentrate on getting better, trying to clean things up a little bit," Paymah said walking off the field Friday. "I've got to go back and watch film. I feel like I flew around and played hard and that's all I can ask for. I have no regrets right now."
Linebacker Kenny Onatolu also made a strong play for a position on the 53-man roster. He was the second-leading tackler Friday night with five stops, including one for a loss, but he showed his quickness to the ball with two fumble recoveries as well.
"I knew I would be getting my opportunity to play more on defense. During the preseason, I played all special teams on all phases. I fared pretty well on that, but I knew I'd get a chance to show what I could do on defense in this game. I was real excited for that," Onatolu said. "On those (fumble recoveries), just talking to coaches on the sidelines, in the first half I wasn't really reading my plays. I was just kind of running around with big eyes and stuff. But in the second half, I started reading my keys and started seeing things happening."
Reynaud, Paymah and Onatolu will be at the mercy of the coaching staff's decisions on Saturday, but they each helped their cause with their performances on Friday.
"It's going to be crazy (Saturday)," Reynaud said. "I really needed that punt return to show them that I can really play special teams as a returner."
Here are our roster thoughts heading into Saturday's cutdown to 53:
Quarterback (3)—Brett Favre, Sage Rosenfels, Tarvaris Jackson. Projected cut: John David Booty could be brought back on the practice squad if he clears waivers, but his interception on Friday night didn't help his cause, and Rosenfels' interception could have helped save Jackson a spot on the roster.
Running back (4)—Adrian Peterson, Chester Taylor, Albert Young, Naufahu Tahi. Projected cut: Ian Johnson probably secured a chance at the practice squad with his performance, but fullback Nehemiah Broughton is likely looking for work.
Tight end (3)—Visanthe Shiancoe, Jim Kleinsasser, Jeff Dugan. Projected cut: Garrett Mills' injury history doesn't help him, and Jake Nordin has a year of practice squad eligibility if the Vikings want to further examine him, but two penalties Friday didn't help him.
Wide receiver (6)—Bernard Berrian, Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin, Bobby Wade, Jaymar Johnson, Darius Reynaud. Projected cut: Bobby Williams, Nick Moore, Vinny Perretta. Of the projected cuts, Moore holds the most potential as a practice squad candidate.
Offensive line (8)—Bryant McKinnie, Steve Hutchinson, John Sullivan, Anthony Herrera, Phil Loadholt, Artis Hicks, Ryan Cook, Jon Cooper. Projected cut: Brian Daniels, Chris Clark, Drew Radovich, Juan Garcia, Andy Kemp, Nick Urban. Daniels and Clark seem to hold the most promise and Urban is raw and could be developed on the practice squad if time and space are available.
Defensive line (10)—Jared Allen, Pat Williams, Kevin Williams, Ray Edwards, Brian Robison, Fred Evans, Letroy Guion, Jimmy Kennedy, Jayme Mitchell, Martail Burnett. Projected cut: Otis Grigsby, Antoine Holmes, Tremaine Johnson. Holmes or Johnson could be practice squad material.
Linebacker (6)—Chad Greenway, E.J. Henderson, Ben Leber, Heath Farwell, Kenny Onatolu, Jasper Brinkley. Projected cut: Erin Henderson, David Herron. Depending on the severity of Erin Henderson's injury on Friday, he could be placed on the physically unable to perform (PUP) or injured reserve.
Cornerback (5)—Antoine Winfield, Cedric Griffin, Benny Sapp, Asher Allen, Karl Paymah. Projected cut: Marcus McCauley, Marcus Walker. McCauley and Paymah seem to be neck and neck for a roster spot, but Paymah appears to have more versatility, whereas McCauley is more strictly an outside corner.
Safety (5)—Madieu Williams, Tyrell Johnson, Husain Abdullah, Jamarca Sanford, Eric Frampton. Projected cut: Devon Hall, Colt Anderson. Hall and Anderson are practice squad possibilities, with Hall showing a bit more range.
Specialists (3)—K Ryan Longwell, P Chris Kluwe, LS Cullen Loeffler.
Note: The Vikings will almost surely cut another player or two and bring in someone from the outside off waivers as other teams around the league trim their rosters as well, but those possibilities are impossible to predict.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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