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Last Was Not Least: 7 Vikings Who Impressed During Preseason Finale

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 31, 2012 – 6:17 am

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.


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Vikings Issue First Depth Chart Of Preseason

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 8, 2012 – 5:19 am

There’s a long way to go before NFL teams have to make roster decisions, but there’s not a long way to go before teams take the field for their first preseason game. So while there’s still plenty of time for players to make their case for a roster spot, NFL teams began releasing their initial preseason depth charts this week.

You can find the Vikings initial depth chart by clicking here.

There aren’t any major surprises or developments in the depth chart, but here are a few notes…

– As expected, Brandon Fusco is listed as the starter at RG, with Geoff Schwartz as his backup. Chris DeGeare is listed as the backup at LG behind Charlie Johnson.

– Lex Hilliard is listed as the 3rd-team RB, with Derrick Coleman and Jordan Todman stacked evenly behind Hilliard.

– Veteran Joe Berger is listed as the backup center, with undrafted college free agent Quentin Saulsberry listed with the 3rd team.

– D’Aundre Reed is lasted as the backup left DE and Nick Reed backs up Jared Allen at right DE.

– Tyrone McKenzie is in the lead for backup middle LB duties, with Audie Cole listed as the 3rd-team middle LB. Everson Griffen is also with the 3rd-team, listed at the weakside LB position.

– Marcus Sherels backs up Antoine Winfield at one CB position and Chris Carr is behind Chris Cook at the other CB spot. Based on my observations at practice, Carr would be ahead of Sherels in any 3-CB defensive alignment.

– Mistral Raymond and Jamarca Sanford are listed as starters at safety, with Harrison Smith behind Sanford at FS and Eric Frampton behind Raymond at FS. This is a fluid position, and Smith has been getting more and more reps with the 1st-team.

– Percy Harvin is listed as the top kickoff returner and Sherels is listed #1 at punt returner. Sherels also backs up Harvin at kickoff return and rookie WR Jarius Wright is listed as the backup punt returner.


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Roster Rundown: Offensive Line

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 24, 2012 – 7:00 am

Few position groups will be as heavily scrutinized early this season more than the offensive line. The Vikings have been one of the NFL’s best rushing teams over the past several seasons, but the combination of a need for improvement in pass protection and multiple new starters in the group will have many keeping close tabs on the men up front.

The offensive line is the subject of today’s Roster Rundown…

The Vikings will bring 15 offensive linemen with them to training camp, probably a standard number in League circles. While we can be fairly certain on four of the five starters heading into training camp, there will still be plenty of competition up and down the line in both the starting lineup and especially for the reserve spots.

John Sullivan is solid at center and has developed into one of the best five or so players at his position in the entire League. Sullivan began his career as Matt Birk’s understudy and eventually rose to starter status, where he snapped to Brett Favre in his first season as the starter and has progressed nicely ever since. There are two other players listed as centers on the Vikings roster who will compete for a backup role behind Sullivan – Joe Berger and Quentin Saulsberry. Berger is a returning veteran with seven seasons of experience and Saulsberry is an undrafted college free agent out of Mississippi State.

The Vikings should be set at both OT positions as well. Phil Loadholt returns at RT and should be sufficiently motivated in a contract year. Fans have grown tired of his penalties and occasional pass protection letdown, but my sense is Loadholt is sitting on a nice season. At LT the Vikings of course have 1st-round pick Matt Kalil. Sullivan has described Kalil as a “freak” athletically. Other OTs listed on the Vikings roster are: Pat Brown, Levi Horn, DeMarcus Love, Geoff Schwartz and Darrion Weems. Brown and Love are returning from last year’s team, Schwartz was a free agent pickup for the Vikings this offseason and could compete for the starting RG spot, and both Horn and Weems are undrafted college free agents.

The addition of Kalil at LT allows the Vikings to move Charlie Johnson over to LG, perhaps his more natural position. Johnson has the athleticism to play OT, but Vikings GM Rick Spielman explained to me earlier this offseason that his arm length is not ideal for the position. Moving him inside to LG will put Johnson is a better position to succeed, and it will allow Johnson to help Kalil transition to the NFL game. The RG position is up for grabs at this point. I expect Brandon Fusco to open camp as the starter, but both Schwartz and Chris DeGeare should have their sights set on winning the job as well. The two other OGs listed on the Vikings roster are Tyler Holmes and Austin Pasztor, a pair of undrafted college free agents.

A lot of names to go over there, but it just means more competition for the position group as a whole. The top three aspects of the offensive line I’ll be watching at training camp are…

– Who looks the best at RG? Fusco has the early edge based on the offseason program, but both DeGeare and Schwartz are in the mix as well.

– How does Kalil adjust to the NFL? Going against Jared Allen every day will help Kalil a ton if the 1st-round pick can strike a balance between taking his medicine from Allen and others on defense while also establishing himself as Ponder’s blindside protector.

– Does Loadholt take a big step forward this year? He was solid as a rookie in 2009 when he helped the club go 12-4 and play in the NFC title game, but since then he’s produced mixed results. Loadholt is one of my favorite guys on the team and I know he takes pride in his game, so I expect him to take a big step forward in his second year working with well-respected OL coach Jeff Davidson.


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