After a month of training camp and three preseason games, it’s easy to write-off the fourth preseason game as meaningless and instead focus on the start of the regular season. But that’s not the climate surrounding the Vikings, according to Head Coach Leslie Frazier.
“I think the guys know going into this final game there are still some opportunities for them to make our team and help our team improve at a number of different spots,” Frazier said earlier this week. “So we do have certain spots where we know we have our starters in place, but we have some places up for [grabs] as well.”
With that in mind, here are five things to watch during tonight’s Vikings-Texans game…
Christian Ponder gets the start at QB
No, there won’t be a rigid, point-of-no-return decision made about the backup QB spot following this game. But tonight is still a significant test for rookie Christian Ponder because he’ll start the game and will likely get an extended look. Unfortunately, Ponder probably won’t play with a lot of first-teamers, so it’s hard to get a truly accurate gauge on his progress, but tonight will still be the best look Vikings coaches get at their first-round QB. Rather than 80-yard drives and long TD passes, I’m looking for Ponder to display confidence and poise, limit mistakes (penalties, bad reads, sacks) and to just play fast.
Everson Griffen at LB
Earlier this week, the Vikings played DE Everson Griffen at LB. Both Frazier and Defensive Coordinator Fred Pagac indicated that Griffen would play some LB tonight against Houston, as the Vikings get creative in trying to get their talented players out on the field. It’s a bit unclear yet what this development means. Some have speculated the team might not be pleased with Erin Henderson (I doubt that), while Frazier and Pagac have said it’s more about how well rookie Christian Ballard has played; with Ballard playing so well, he can provide depth along the defensive line while Griffen is moved to LB. At this point we don’t know how this experiment will go, but we will know a little bit more after tonight.
Who will step up at WR?
About the only certainty with regard to the Vikings WR situation is that Bernard Berrian, Percy Harvin and Michael Jenkins will make the team. After that, we don’t know A) how many total receivers the Vikings will keep and B) which receivers are in line for those additional roster spots. Manny Arceneaux, Devin Aromashodu, Stephen Burton, Greg Camarillo, Juaquin Iglesias and Jaymar Johnson are the remaining WRs on the roster. A couple weeks ago I would’ve discounted Arceneaux, but since then I think he’s taken a step up. Aromashodu is an attractive option because he can cover kicks and has great speed. Camarillo and Johnson can also perform punt return duties. Burton is a project and looks to have potential, while Iglesias is a smooth athlete and can probably play both out wide and inside as a slot receiver. So there is a lot to like about this group of WRs. The question now is, will any of them step up to separate themselves from the rest of the group?
Reserve offensive linemen
I thought the Vikings first-team offensive line played very well last week against the Cowboys. So well, in fact, that I’d be pleased if the Vikings decided to rest all five of them tonight. That course of action would allow the coaching staff to get a good, long look at the reserve offensive linemen on this roster. You’d like to keep all of them, but of course that’s not a realistic option. So tonight represents the last opportunity for this crew of players to make a case for themselves. Jon Cooper looks to be a step ahead of Brandon Fusco for backup center duties, but is “a step ahead” enough for Cooper to keep a spot over a draft pick? Ryan Cook, a late signing during camp, has stepped in nicely and is a versatile reserve. Another draft pick, DeMarcus Love, has looked good at times; can he stamp his first training camp and preseason with a solid performance tonight? Chris DeGeare was at one time a promising up-and-comer, where does he stand? And what about Pat Brown, Seth Olsen and Thomas Welch? All three of shown flashes of ability worthy of keeping around. Tonight is a big night for this crew.
Kickoff and punt return roles
I’m guessing both Lorenzo Booker and Percy Harvin won’t play much, if at all, tonight. That leaves a few extra return opportunities for the guys who do play. Can Marcus Sherels step into the return role and provide a little spark? That could be all he needs to secure a spot on the CB depth chart. Or maybe Jaymar Johnson can register another 40-yard punt return to convince the coaching staff to keep him on the WR depth chart. Will Greg Camarillo get a look at punt return? Can Cord Parks step in and contribute with another long kickoff return? I wouldn’t be surprised at all if a play or two on special teams tonight turns out to be a “tie-breaker” of sorts in determining a roster spot on either defense or offense.
Tags: Christian Ponder, Everson Griffen, Leslie Frazier
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