The fourth and final preseason game of 2012 is in the books, as the Vikings closed out their exhibition schedule with a tight and high-scoring 28-24 loss to the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium on Thursday night. With the preseason in the rear view mirror, fans will now set their attention on Week 1 of the regular season.
But not so fast.
Before NFL teams can set their sights on their Week 1 opponent, an important preseason process must first be completed – the 53-man roster cutdown. Currently, the Vikings roster stands at 75 players, but NFL teams are required to arrive at the 53-man limit by Friday evening.
As Vikings GM Rick Spielman and Head Coach Leslie Frazier, along with their staffs, go through discussions to try and configure the right mix of players, they will consider the entire body of work a player has put together from the beginning of the offseason program in the middle April through Organized Team Activities (OTAs), minicamps, training camp and the preseason. At the same time, there’s no denying that the fourth and final preseason game has significant bearing on those decisions.
So, how did the Vikings preseason finale impact decisions Spielman, Frazier and Co. will make? Let’s take a look at seven players who helped their chances of making the 53-man roster thanks to a strong final performance in the exhibition season.
(The opinions expressed below are mine and do not necessarily reflect the views of GM Rick Spielman, Head Coach Leslie Frazier or the Vikings organization.)
RB Matt Asiata
Based largely on a solid performance last week combined with a good training camp, Asiata came into Thursday’s preseason finale with a legitimate shot to make the final roster. He’s listed as and is built like a FB, but Asiata has some RB skills – nimble feet, good agility, good hands and good vision. Against the Texans, Asiata registered a 6.1 yards-per-carry average on 7 attempts. For the preseason, Asiata has 23 carries for 134 yards and 3 receptions for 15 yards with 1 TD. Is it enough to make the 53-man roster? Hard to tell, but Asiata is certainly a player who helped himself in the final preseason contest.
QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson
It’s easy to get excited about the potential of MBT. He has a big arm, looks the part, and is a good guy to have around the facility. On top of that, he’s had a good training camp and preseason. MBT has not looked overwhelmed, and in fact he led the Vikings on a drive late in Thursday’s game that resulted in him throwing into the end zone to try and steal a victory. It wasn’t to be, but MBT showed some late-game poise during the drive, and that’s fun to see from a youngster.
For the preseason, MBT’s numbers look like this: 18 of 36 for 242 yards with 1 TD and 2 INTs.
CB Brandon Burton
The return of Chris Cook and Antoine Winfield after they missed 21 games combined last year along with the presence of 3rd-round pick Josh Robinson has garnered much of the attention placed on the Vikings CBs. That has allowed Burton to quietly go about his business and have a pretty good camp. He’s backed up that pretty good camp with a solid preseason as well. On Thursday night, Burton collected 3 tackles on defense and another on special teams; he took another step forward in his development. Burton has been more willing to mix it up this year during training camp, and that along with a couple of solid preseason outings might be enough to earn him a spot on the team.
LB Audie Cole
Perhaps the highlight of the entire preseason was Cole’s performance against the Buffalo Bills, when he intercepted consecutive passes from Tyler Thigpen and Brad Smith and returned both for TDs. But Cole was solid before that performance and he’s been solid since that performance as well. Cole began his night on Thursday with a pair of special teams tackles, and followed it up with a good performance on defense in the 2nd half. Cole was tied for second on the team with 6 tackles and defense and he led the Vikings with 2 special teams tackles as well. Frazier mentioned Cole during his post-game press conference as a guy the team could look at for depth should Marvin Mitchell be held out of Week 1 action after spraining his ankle against the Texans.
C Quentin Saulsberry
The Vikings offense was on the field for 83 snaps on Thursday night, and in that time they racked up 562 yards of offense. The man in the middle of the offensive line for most of that time was not John Sullivan or even backup Joe Berger; it was Saulsberry, an undrafted rookie free agent who has quietly hung around during the offseason program and training camp. With Sullivan in place as the starter and Berger a quality backup, it might be ambitious to speculate Saulsberry being an option for the 53-man roster. But perhaps the Vikings think enough of Saulsberry to keep him around for practice squad consideration. His performance on Thursday night in helping the Vikings amass a large net yardage total certainly helped.
RB Jordan Todman
Most will point to his 76-yard TD run as evidence that Todman deserves consideration for the 53-man roster. It’s true that the long TD jaunt helped Todman, but the speedster also helped his cause in other ways. One play that stands out to me came in the Vikings final offensive drive when he caught a screen pass, but had little room to run. Rather than trying to squeeze out every last yard, Todman wisely decided to run horizontally to get out of bounds and stop the clock. For the game, Todman finished with 114 rushing yards and 1 TD on just 10 carries and he added 5 receptions for 21 yards as well.
An ankle injury limited Todman for most of training camp and the preseason, so the Vikings have a limited sample size with which to judge him. That might ultimately cause the team to go another direction, but what makes the decision even more difficult is Todman’s outstanding performance on Thursday evening.
WR Jarius Wright
As a 4th-round pick, Wright was likely a lock to make the roster anyway. But after Thursday night, it’s clear the rookie receiver made the roster based on his on-field performance rather than his draft stock. Before leaving the game with a sprained ankle, Wright caught 6 balls for 122 yards, including a 59-yard TD in the 3rd quarter. Wright showed some explosion and some toughness.
Tags: Audie Cole, Brandon Burton, Jarius Wright, Jordan Todman, Matt Asiata, McLeod Bethel-Thompson, Quentin Saulsberry
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