Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.


Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.


Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.


Posts about Sage Rosenfels

Vikings 2013 look ahead: Quarterbacks

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated: January 20, 2013 - 10:50 AM
The Vikings coaching staff and front office are in the process of fully evaluating their roster as they plan for the opening of free agency in March as well as April’s NFL Draft. As General Manager Rick Spielman, head coach Leslie Frazier and their respective staffs put their heads together, the Access Vikings team is doing the same. We are in the middle of delivering snapshot evaluations of every position group. Today, we look at the quarterbacks.
 
QUARTERBACKS
 
Get excited: The word “excited” is a little too strong a word to use while discussing starter Christian Ponder. But even the most stubborn anti-Ponders among us would – or should – admit privately that Ponder’s final month of the regular season was “encouraging.”
After literally throwing away the first Green Bay game with two ridiculous interceptions at Lambeau Field on Dec. 2, Ponder pulled it together in a way that had to surprise even his most blindly optimistic supporters. Needing to win their final four games – including two on the road and one at home against a Packers team that had won 12 straight division games – the Vikings went 4-0 because Ponder complemented Adrian Peterson’s greatness with exactly the kind of efficient, alert, ball-secure play the Vikings currently ask of him.
Ponder threw only one interception in the final four games and closed the regular season with his best game as a professional. Knowing it was a win-and-you’re-in-the-playoffs situation against the Packers, Ponder had a career-high 120.2 passer rating, tied a career high with three touchdown passes and didn’t turn the ball over. How is that not impressive?
Unfortunately for the Vikings, they’ll never know how much more shocking their 10-win season could have been had Ponder not injured the triceps/elbow on his throwing arm and missed the playoffs. But one thing became abundantly clear early on in that wild-card loss at Green Bay: Without Ponder, the 2012 Vikings had absolutely zero chance of beating a quality team.
Overall, this season was another pogo-stick ride with Ponder at the handlebars. But the good moments outnumbered the bad.
Remember the unthinkable comeback in Week 1 against the Jaguars? The 94.7 passer rating in the upset of the 49ers in Week 3? Starting the year with four interception-free games? The 114.2 passer rating in that Week 10 win over the Lions? The first drives down the stretch against Chicago, at St. Louis, at Houston and the Packers?
There were bad moments, too. Bad enough that maybe Ponder won’t prove to be this team’s quarterback for the next decade. But he made enough progress to prove that he’s the answer in 2013.
Some critics will never buy that. And that’s fine. But Ponder did help this team win 10 games. And he did it with a thin receiving corps that lost its only playmaker (Percy Harvin) in Week 9.
 
Keep an eye on: If nothing else, the playoff loss proved Joe Webb as Ponder’s primary backup is a flawed plan for a contending team.
So now what?
McLeod Bethel-Thompson isn’t ready to step up from No. 3 QB. And fans need to let go of Sage Rosenfels. Folks, he’s not coming back. Let … it … go.
The Vikings will at least explore alternative options for a No. 2 QB in 2013. But THEY WON’T BE LOOKING FOR ANYONE TO COMPETE WITH CHRISTIAN PONDER. So that rules out acquiring Alex Smith, so let go of that one, too.
And, no, Joe Flacco isn’t a possibility. His contract is up after this season, but … he … isn’t … leaving … Baltimore.
Remember, the Vikings are looking at experienced veteran backups who will be available in free agency. They aren’t elite QBs. They’re guys like Derek Anderson, Matt Moore, David Carr, Matt Leinart, Byron Leftwich, Bruce Gradkowski, Jason Campbell and Rex Grossman.
We’ll assume the Vikings will pass on a T-Jack reunion.
 
Reason for worry: Granted, it’s asking a lot to have a guy start a playoff game at Lambeau Field after not attempting a pass all season. But the very nature of playing backup quarterback requires one to possess the ability to hold down the proverbial fort while knowing your opportunities are going to be few and far between.
Webb never has been an accurate passer. He’s a big, fast athlete who was drafted in the sixth round to play receiver. But his inability to throw with any shred of accuracy in the playoff game was alarming and added another bullet point to GM Rick Spielman’s offseason To-Do List.
If anything, Webb has regressed as a passer during his three years of NFL tutoring. And that has thrust the Vikings into an offseason predicament that they never expected to be facing when the left the Metrodome after clinching that unlikely playoff berth back on Dec. 30.
This decision has many layers and reasons to worry. Webb still has value as an athlete and someone with potential to run the read-option attack that’s spreading throughout the league. Finding a way to use him could really help an offense that needs more playmakers and unpredictability.
Therefore, the Vikings could go back to an earlier plan that positioned Webb as the No. 3 QB behind a more experienced veteran backup. In that spot, the risk of injury would be diminished, so Webb’s speed and athleticism could be used in some capacity other than holding a clipboard on game day.
Of course, going that route would mean the Vikings just wasted a year developing Bethel-Thompson. MBT is a player the coaches really like. He might have the best arm on the team and could work his way up to No. 2 with more seasoning.
So the Vikings head into 2013 with their starter set, but still have a lot of questions to answer behind him.

Chat OT: What in the world can the Vikings do with Christian Ponder?

Posted by: Updated: November 7, 2012 - 9:54 AM

If you missed my live Vikings chat on Tuesday afternoon, you can check in here and read the back and forth in full. In addition, each week I will attempt to go overtime, bringing good questions I didn’t get around to answering on the chat here to the Access Vikings blog for discussion. Here are Tuesday’s leftovers. And surprise, surprise, there’s a lot of Christian Ponder talk still percolating …

Question 1: Ponder needs to sit. At 5-4, why risk wasting a whole season? Bench him and let Webb take over. How long will Frazier wait? Is he really prepared to go 5-11 with Ponder at QB? Ponder can compete for the job again next year.

Question 2: Why not play Webb? I get that we need to see how Ponder handles things but we still have a shot at the playoffs. Anything can happen in the playoffs. So why not play Webb?

We need a nickname for these people, don’t we? Webbies? Webb-sters? Something.

Anyway, let’s get to the flaws in the premise that “anything can happen in the playoffs.” The greatest thing that’s happened to the NFL in recent years has been the surge of teams that are mediocre for a while, get hot in January and then win the Super Bowl. Shoot, the 2010 Packers were 8-6 on Christmas day, almost missed the playoffs and then won it all. Last year’s Giants? They lost five times between Nov. 13 and Dec. 18, then rallied from a 7-7 record to win the Super Bowl.

Overall, wild card teams have won the Super Bowl five times in the 21st century. So that’s created the idea that any team can win the Super Bowl every year.

Great for fan interest. Dangerous for realistic expectations.

And so if, at any point this season, you truly believed the Vikings had everything it took to win a Super Bowl this year, let me just tell you that you were nuts. Plain and simple.

And if you think that Joe Webb is suddenly an upper-echelon quarterback that rights this ship for the rest of the season, well, yeah, you’re probably being too hopeful.

We’ll get more into Webb here shortly. But just understand that this season was never ever ever supposed to be about chasing this year’s Super Bowl. It was supposed to be about building for the future and developing a nucleus of young players.

Paramount to that was finding out what exactly the Vikings have in Ponder and whether he’s truly wired to lead them to a bright, bright future. Things certainly don’t look good right now. But it’s only proper and fair and logical for the future plans to give him the rest of this season to prove exactly what he is.

Question 3: I completely understand why we cannot go to Webb. We have to see if Ponder is our guy for sure and he will be the starter all season. BUT when will the Vikes know what route to take? Ponder looks worse every week. He looks scared to throw, scared to get sacked, very hesitant. And when he does throw, it is often inaccurate. He’s nowhere near what we saw in Weeks 1-4. You can blame a poor receiving corps and shaky protection all you want. But the biggest problem is Ponder. How can he right the ship? Confidence isn't in the coaching mechanics handbook.

Yeah. That’s why this is going to be such a tough, tough stretch. Because there aren’t very many easy ways to restore confidence that’s been shot. It comes down to the individual, most times, pulling himself out of the funk. Coaches can try to dial up high-percentage throws that build confidence. Like in the Tennessee game, after Ponder threw interceptions on back-to-back passes, the rest of the game was a lesson in restoring confidence with short throws that allowed Ponder to hit his stride again with easy throws. But the big problem now is that the Vikings have only succeeded with short passes all season. So now defenses have the book on that. And they haven’t adjusted with the plays they’ve called or the throws Ponder has made to take advantage of a field that should be wide open a lot with defenses crowding the box. Worst of all, Ponder is now missing – and sometimes badly – on short, easy throws.

Question 4: We all know Mr. Ponder has been awful for a few games now, with Seattle being the worst. My concern, as possibly indicated by Percy on the sidelines, that his teammates have lost confidence in Mr. Ponder. Do you have any way of gauging that? Also, why not find some way to use Webb? Anything.

Overall, Ponder is a likable enough guy who teammates want to succeed for many reasons. He’s smart. He’s personable. He’s driven. Heck, he is best friends with his center and his top tight end. So naturally he’s going to have a lot of support within the locker room. Even Adrian Peterson, who has the most reason to be upset, has publicly voiced his support, which is all you can do at a time like this. But if Ponder’s struggles worsen, the frustration will soon bubble up. And when your top receiver (Percy Harvin) is yelling at the head coach and making veiled comments after the game that he’s behind Ponder because “he’s who the staff picked,” you start to wonder how fast internal confidence could erode.

As for getting Webb involved somehow, someway, I’m OK with this suggestion. No, you don’t make him the starter now. But for a guy this athletic, this dynamic, this explosive, it seems strange that the Vikings haven’t found anything for him to do other than take one kneel-down handoff to close of the Titans game. When the Vikings were winning and playing well offensively, you don’t mess with success. But now? The offense is clearly disjointed and frustrated and needs a spark. Webb has been Mr. Spark at times. There has to be something they can find for him to do.

Question 5: Ok ... Let’s assume the Viking keep struggling and finish with a top-10 pick next year... Who are the top three QBs coming out next year?

It likely won’t be a strong quarterback class for the 2013 draft. There’s a possibility of only two first-rounders: West Virginia’s Geno Smith and Southern Cal’s Matt Barkley. Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson also should get a later first-round nod. If you’re looking for an underclassman who has some intrigue, give Tennessee’s Tyler Bray a look.

And if you want another Florida State quarterback, E.J. Manuel has some skills.

Question 6: What would Peterson have to do to be in contention for MVP?

Question 7: AP seems like such a team guy. How does he keep his motivation going through seasons like 2011 and now the slump this year? He's playing stronger than ever through these struggles.

Peterson is on pace for 1,700 rushing yards and more than 1,900 total yards. Coming off major knee surgery, he’s having one of the more remarkable seasons by a running back ever. And week by week, he just seems to be getting better, too. Which is a scary thought for opposing defenses. Still, in order to get serious MVP consideration, the Vikings will probably have to keep themselves in playoff contention into December. Which means Peterson may have to carry them there single-handedly.

As for his character and motivation? The guy has drive and focus and a positivity about him that is unrelenting. He has no time for negativity and instead channels his frustrations into working harder. He’s a unique individual and probably deserves more national acclaim for the way he’s playing right now.

Question 8: After a disastrous season do you think Percy will shop around or re-sign when the time comes?

Well, for starters, the Vikings have him under contract through the end of the 2013 season. So Harvin couldn’t become a free agent until March 2014. So shopping around isn’t something he’d be able to do for a while.

More than anything, before Harvin signs an extension with the Vikings, he should try to have a feel for what the situation will be around him for the long haul. And that means making an educated guess as to what the future holds for Ponder, Bill Musgrave and Leslie Frazier using that to decide if this is the situation he’d want to stay in.

Question 9: Based on preseason expectations, should we as fans be seeing the glass as “half-empty" or "half-full"?

Both? I mean, truthfully, if anyone was expecting a frustration-free season, they were delusional. I saw no one picking the Vikings to finish at .500. And right now they’re 5-4.

Scratch out two more wins and a 7-9 season and you’ve either hit or exceeded the preseason expectations of just about everybody, right?

So here are your reasons to feel “half-full” – the two first-round draft picks (Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith) look like hits and guys who can stabilize your offensive line and the back of the secondary until 2020; the franchise running back apparently did not suffer a career-threatening injury last Christmas Eve and appears to be as good as ever; the rookie kicker is a weapon; Percy Harvin is leading the NFL in catches.

And reasons to feel “half-empty”: Ponder is currently regressing; the run defense has sprung a huge leak; Chris Cook’s broken arm significantly weakened the secondary; clock management at the end of halves is often lacking; the receiving corps is marginal; Ponder is currently regressing; teams have figured out the Vikings’ weaknesses and are attacking them; and, oh yeah, Ponder is currently regressing.

Question 10: I'm expecting the Vikes to go winless the rest of the way. All their wins have been against poor teams – excluding the 49ers. Do you think that 49ers game was a fluke or is this team capable of playing that way again this year?

Well, clearly the “half-empty” crowd has a spokesman.

In beating the 49ers, the Vikings played a near-perfect game. They won the turnover battle. They played physical. Their quarterback managed the game well. The defense was nasty throughout. They limited their penalties.

Yes, I think they can deliver another performance like that this year. For certain.

But I also think it’d be naïve to think that would be the norm. Still, it wasn’t just the San Fran win that was impressive. They played pretty well in Detroit, especially on defense, winning a key division game on the road. They took an inferior Tennessee team and stomped on them early and never let up. Those performances happened within the past six weeks. I do think they’re capable of digging deep and winning at least one more game they’re not supposed to. The problem is, most of the games the rest of the way will be games they’re not supposed to win.

Question 11: In hindsight should the Vikings have kept Sage? He is more of a seasoned game-manager.

Yep, this is where I lose faith in the intelligence of people. Because there are people out there who think Sage Rosenfels would have the answer for this team. You know, the 34-year-old who, in 11 seasons, won a total of six games as an NFL starter. You know, the guy who not only couldn’t compete with Ponder for the starting job but failed to beat out Webb and McLeod Bethel-Thompson, too. You know, the guy who made his last start in 2008. You know, the guy who has so much to offer that he’s not even on an NFL roster right now. You know, the guy with an 81.2 career quarterback rating. These are the kinds of questions that make me want to behave like Percy Harvin did when he went ballistic on the sidelines in Seattle. Speaking of which …

Question 12: Any insight on what really went on with Harvin being so fired up?

Neither Harvin nor Leslie Frazier would elaborate on what had the receiver so miffed late in the second quarter. They both gracefully explained it away by saying Percy just wants to win and was agitated by a promising drive that stalled late and resulted in a field goal. Harvin seemed most angered by a second down bubble screen pass that Ponder failed to complete. But even if that pass had been complete, Harvin may not have gained anything with Seattle having it read perfectly. So was Harvin angered by the bad throw? By the play call? By both? It’s hard to guess.

Will Vikings' Peterson play Sunday?

Posted by: Chris Miller Updated: September 3, 2012 - 3:27 PM

The Vikings had a short practice Monday with a firmed-up roster of 53 and eight practice squadders, preparing for Sunday's opener against Jacksonville.

Key question for the week is whether running back Adrian Peterson will be ready after rehabbing from major surgery to his left knee nine months ago.

"He has had limited exposure in camp, so we will talk about even if it is a viable option to let him play,"  coach Leslie Frazier said. "We have to take the emotion out of it. We have to see the big picture."

Peterson will have a chance to go through more intense practices Wednesday and Thursday before the decision is made, but Frazier indicated if Peterson does play, he would see limited duty.

Frazier spent most of his press conference talking about putting together the roster.  He said team officials mapped it out before Thursday's preseason finale at Houston, but some things "happened in that game that made us rethink some things."

Asked about the number of young players on the team, Frazier said, "we went with the guys who gave us the best chance to be successful this season."

Injury report

Cornerback Josh Robinson (concussion) was back at practice.

Offensive tackle DeMarcus Love (torn pectoral) faces surgery, Frazier said.

Three players with ankle injuries, defensive back Andrew Sendejo, cornerback Marcus Sherels and wideout Jarius Wright, also practiced and are likely to be ready for Sunday.

Linebacker Marvin Mitchell, who has a high ankle sprain, is less likely.

The new guy

Cornerback A.J. Jefferson, picked up on Friday from Arizona for a conditional 2013 draft pick, was one of the last men off the practice field. Jefferson started seven games for the Cardinals last season before "it got a little rough for me," but said he was looking forward to a new beginning.

"It should be an easy transition," he said. "Football is football. Terminology is a little different, that's about it."

Jefferson, a 24-year-old who was undrafted out of Fresno State before signing with Arizona in 2010, said cuts were due at 6 p.m. Friday in Arizona, and he said he didn't get a call about the trade until 7, "so I thought I had made the team, then it all came as a surprise."

Said Frazier: "Good coverability, and a good press guy. He can also play off the ball. Good kickoff returner."

Looking for a ride

McLeod Bethel-Thompson made the Vikings as the No. 3 quarterback when veteran Sage Rosenfels was waived on Friday.

"His command was one thing that really got our attention," Frazier said. "He has some swagger about him."

Bethel-Thompson played last season for Denny Green and the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the UFL.

"My journey was kind of a wild one," he said. "But I'm excited to get that No 3 spot."

Bethel-Thompson waited out the cuts in the team hotel Friday.  When he didn't get a call, he figured he made the team ... although he also had to wait out Saturday as the team made more moves.

"No news was good news," he said.

His first move? "I got to rent a car," he joked. And, because he's not yet 25, "I have to pay that extra fee."

Chris Carr, Sage Rosenfels surprises among Vikings' final cuts

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated: August 31, 2012 - 8:49 PM

Veteran cornerback Chris Carr was by far the biggest surprise cut as the Vikings trimmed their active roster of 21 players to reach the 53-man roster by the 8 p.m. deadline. Also cut was 12-year veteran Sage Rosenfels, the No. 3 QB who was given a $500,000 guarantee for 2012 as part of a two-year deal he signed after last season.

Here's how the Vikings reached the 53-man limit:

Placed On Reserve/Injured: OT DeMarcus Love.

Vested veterans waived: CB Chris Carr, DE Jeff Charleston, S Eric Frampton, QB Sage Rosenfels.

Waived: WR Manny Arceneaux, DT Chase Baker, OG Chris DeGeare, FB Ryan D’Imperio, CB Bobby Felder, DT Trevor Guyton, RB Lex Hilliard, OG Tyler Holmes, CB Reggie Jones, OT Kevin Murphy, LB Corey Paredes, OG Austin Pasztor, DE Nick Reed, C Quentin Saulsberry, TE Mickey Shuler, RB Jordan Todman.

The Vikings only had to clear 21 players because they get a roster exemption for receiver Jerome Simpson, who will serve a three-game suspension to start the season.

Carr came to the Vikings from Baltimore and was working with the No. 1 nickel defense consistently through training camp and the preseason. There was speculation that he might eventually be elevated to a starting role so that 35-year-old Antoine Winfield could play only in the nickel.

Instead, the Vikings decided to keep these six corners: Winfield, Brandon Burton, Marcus Sherels, Chris Cook, Josh Robinson and Zack Bowman. Sherels' case was helped tremendously by his status as the No. 1 punt returner and Percy Harvin's primary backup at kickoff returner.

Rosenfels' release was surprising only because he was considered a security blanket for new general manager Rick Spielman. But the rocket right arm and the greater upside for 24-year-old McLeod Bethel-Thompson trumped the comfort of having the 33-year-old Rosenfels around to help the younger Christian Ponder and Joe Webb.

The Vikings will assemble their practice squad on Saturday morning. Their final 53-man roster could change tomorrow evening based on whether they're awarded any players they put in claims for. The Vikings are third in line for waiver claims, so they have a much better chance of getting players they put in claims for. 

Youth movement continues

Of the 53 players the Vikings currently have on their active roster after Friday’s cuts, eight are rookies with 16 more entering either their second or third seasons in the NFL. Defensive tackle Trevor Guyton was the only player from this year’s 10-man draft class to be waived. Guyton, however, seems to be a prime candidate to be added to the practice squad.

Of the 10 players the Vikings drafted in 2011, nine are still around. The only one missing is Ross Homan, a sixth-round pick who was cut before last season.

Love goes on I.R.

The Vikings placed second-year offensive tackle DeMarcus Love on injured reserve Friday, expecting him to need surgery on a lingering shoulder/pectoral injury. As a rookie last season, Love was inactive for all 16 games. He was expected to supply some depth at left tackle behind Matt Kalil, though starting left guard Charlie Johnson would also be an emergency option there. The only other back-up tackle on the roster right now is Pat Brown.

 

Cut time is here: How we would assemble the Vikings' 53-man roster

Posted by: Chris Miller Updated: August 31, 2012 - 1:34 PM

Following Thursday night’s 28-24 loss to the Houston Texans in the preseason finale, Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier said he wasn’t ready to make any immediate final decisions on the 53-man roster. Frazier wants to go back through the film of Thursday’s game, then sit down for what promises to be an exhaustive review of the personnel Friday with the rest of the coaches, General Manager Rick Spielman and the team’s scouts.

 But we don’t need to wait. We opened training camp by giving you a small glimpse at how the 90-man roster would be reduced. Now, after five-and-a-half weeks of practice and four preseason games, it’s time to get down to business.

Here’s how our roster shapes up … (And yes, you will count 54 players we’re keeping because the Vikings will get to use Jerome Simpson’s roster spot for the first three games while he’s suspended)

QUARTERBACKS

Who we’re keeping: Christian Ponder, Joe Webb, McLeod Bethel-Thompson

Who we’re cutting: Sage Rosenfels

Worth discussing: Bethel-Thompson played the entire second half Thursday and completed 15 of 29 passes for 193 yards. He had a 59-yard touchdown strike to rookie Jarius Wright and also had an interception on a fourth quarter pass to tight end Allen Reisner. But that was simply a nice play by Texans safety Eddie Pleasant. It’s hard to say for sure what Bethel-Thompson’s NFL potential is. But he does have a rocket for an arm and some admirable moxie. And for a rebuilding team like the Vikings, it’s worth taking a few chances here and there. Rosenfels? He was 7-for-11 for 111 yards Thursday with a 58-yard TD pass to Devin Aromashodu. He's a favorite of GM Rick Spielman and can provide valuable input in the meeting rooms. But Rosenfels has also made all of 12 starts in his NFL career, the last one coming in 2008. The Vikings may insist that Rosenfels will be kept around because of his veteran intelligence and the mentoring he can provide Ponder and Webb behind the scenes. But Ponder and Webb also have plenty of guidance coming from quarterbacks coach Craig Johnson and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, a quarterback guru himself. And let’s face it, if the Vikings are forced to play a third quarterback at any point this season, things have gotten pretty bad. So why not give Bethel-Thompson a longer look?

RUNNING BACKS

Who we’re keeping: Adrian Peterson, Toby Gerhart, Jordan Todman, Jerome Felton

Who we’re cutting: Matt Asiata, Lex Hilliard, Ryan D’Imperio

Worth discussing: Look, we know it would be crazy to get too excited over the 114-yard outburst Todman had Thursday night against a flock of Texans reserves. But what Todman did show is that he has incredible burst and intriguing upside. His 76-yard TD run may very well have earned him a roster spot, proof that under pressure he can deliver.

“Some of his teammates were talking about just that after that long run,” head coach Leslie Frazier said. “They go, ‘Man, Coach, that running back position just got a lot more competitive.’ And they’re right. To see Jordan step up the way he did, that was one of the things we were hoping to see.”

But the Vikings will also have to consider the sprained ankle that kept Todman out through much of training camp and limited him to just two carries in the preseason before Thursday.

Said Frazier: “You have to factor that in. You want guys to stay healthy. That’s part of playing in this league: availability. But sometimes injuries are completely out of your control. So we have to evaluate him on his body of work. And his body of work is limited compared to some of the other backs. But we have to sit down and discuss where he is and how much he can help our team going forward.”

WIDE RECEIVERS

Who we’re keeping: Percy Harvin, Jerome Simpson, Michael Jenkins, Jarius Wright, Devin Aromashodu, Stephen Burton

Who we’re cutting: Manny Arceneaux

Worth discussing: There’s plenty of worry about what the Vikings will do to stretch the field vertically in the passing game during Weeks 1-3 when Simpson is serving his three-game suspension. But don’t forget, Harvin hauled in a bomb from Ponder a week ago and dropped what would have been another home run catch on a post route. Then, against Houston, Wright and Aromashodu each delivered long TD catches. Wright feels he has the versatility to be used both inside and outside and he looked good against Houston. Aromashodu also stepped up, providing at least some comfort that a waiver wire scavenger hunt for added receiver help might not be needed this weekend.

“[Devin’s] length makes a difference,” Frazier said. “And he’s a guy who can really run. He’s a long strider so sometimes it’s a little tougher getting in and out of breaks for him. But he’s shown that he can make plays down the field. And that’s what we wanted to be able to see tonight. We wanted to see that throughout this preseason. And it’s good that it showed up tonight. We thought it was there. We saw it some in OTAs, we saw it some in our practice in Mankato. It was good to see it in a game situation.”

The final receiver spot will be between Burton and Arceneaux, a coin flip really. Burton was targeted eight times Thursday night and had just three catches for 47 yards. Arceneaux was targeted seven times and finished with two grabs for 28 yards.

TIGHT ENDS

Who we’re keeping: Kyle Rudolph, John Carlson, Rhett Ellison, Allen Reisner

Who we’re cutting: Mickey Shuler

Worth discussing: The Vikings could be tempted to keep only three tight ends, which would leave Reisner out of the mix. But given Carlson’s recent injury struggles – the sprained knee that kept him out of most of training camp, the shoulder injury that cost him the entire 2011 season – keeping depth at the position will be a priority. Ellison’s ability to play a fullback role is beneficial. And he’s been solid catching passes throughout the preseason.

OFFENSIVE LINE

Who we’re keeping: Matt Kalil, John Sullivan, Phil Loadholt, Charlie Johnson, Brandon Fusco, Geoff Schwartz, Joe Berger, Pat Brown, DeMarcus Love

Who we’re cutting: Quentin Saulsberry, Chris DeGeare, Kevin Murphy, Austin Pasztor, Tyler Holmes

Worth discussing: Depth at the tackle positions is a bit of a problem right now. That was in full evidence Thursday night with Love aggravating a shoulder injury that has bothered him throughout the preseason and Brown struggling with penalty problems. Schwartz’s quick recovery from sports hernia surgery has been encouraging. And Berger remains a reliable reserve with the versatility to play both guard and center in case of an emergency. In the big picture, keeping that starting unit intact is going to be a huge piece of the puzzle this season. Also, don’t be surprised if Saulsberry, an undrafted rookie from Mississippi State, is the 10th offensive lineman in the locker room next week as a member of the practice squad. Retaining only nine linemen on the 53-man roster will give the Vikings some flexibility to add depth elsewhere. And by elsewhere we mean in the defensive backfield.

DEFENSIVE LINE

Who we’re keeping: Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, Brian Robison, Letroy Guion, Fred Evans, Everson Griffen, Christian Ballard, D’Aundre Reed

Who we’re cutting: Nick Reed, Trevor Guyton, Jeff Charleston, Chase Baker

Worth discussing: We’re not banking on many roster surprises here. The defensive line’s success in 2012 will hinge on whether Guion emerges as the type of difference-making nose tackle that the Vikings believe he can be. The line’s success beyond 2012 will hinge on the continued development of Reed and Ballard. Guyton could be a prime candidate for the practice squad, a seventh-round pick who needs a lot of work.

LINEBACKERS

Who we’re keeping: Chad Greenway, Erin Henderson, Jasper Brinkley, Marvin Mitchell, Tyrone McKenzie, Audie Cole

Who we’re cutting: Larry Dean, Corey Paredes

Worth discussing: In extensive action Thursday in Houston, neither Dean nor McKenzie did much to help their cause, unable to make plays against the run. Some of that, Frazier acknowledged, was a result of the Vikings’ poor play up front. Dean has special teams value. But given the uncertainty at middle linebacker, McKenzie seems like a better insurance policy there. Cole has shown enough throughout the preseason to keep around. He’s working his butt of to develop and the Vikings love his knack for making big plays. The lack of depth here is a major concern. And if the waiver wire presents a few options worth considering, both McKenzie and Dean could be the odd men out by weekend’s end.

CORNERBACKS

Who we’re keeping: Chris Cook, Antoine Winfield, Chris Carr, Josh Robinson, Zack Bowman, Brandon Burton

Who we’re cutting: Marcus Sherels, Reggie Jones, Bobby Felder

Worth discussing: The ongoing experiment with Wright as a punt returner is going well enough that Sherels’ time may be up. Sherels missed the preseason finale with a sprained ankle. Wright had three punt returns for 18 yards plus two fair catches in his place. If Sherels’ return ability is considered valuable – remember, he’s also comfortable on kickoffs – Burton could get cut. Felder has promise and is another guy the Vikings may try to slip onto their practice squad.       

SAFETIES

Who we’re keeping: Harrison Smith, Jamarca Sanford, Mistral Raymond, Robert Blanton, Eric Frampton

Who we’re cutting: Andrew Sendejo

Worth discussing: It’s hard to say who suffered from worse timing – Sendejo, who suffered a severe ankle sprain last week in a preseason loss to San Diego and is probably a long way away from being healthy again; or Frampton, who saw extensive action against the Texans and was victimized on a handful of big plays early. Frampton’s value has always been more on special teams than on defense. But is that enough to justify keeping him around? Blanton played for the first time against Houston on Thursday night and was predictably ordinary. No big plays. No obvious gaffes. “You could tell he was a little rusty early on,” Frazier said. “There were a few things that he wasn’t quite on with. But overall, the fact he played the entire game, he really held up fair well. As the game went on, he got better.”

SPECIALISTS

Who we’re keeping: Chris Kluwe, Blair Walsh, Cullen Loeffler

Who we’re cutting: Nobody

Worth discussing: Walsh missed field goals in each of the last three preseason games, all of them from longer than 40 yards. Regular misses won’t be tolerated as easily in the regular season. But Walsh has been superb on kickoffs for the most part and finished the preseason with 34 points, second only to Seattle kicker Steven Hauschka (35). Kluwe averaged 45.3 yards on 19 preseason punts.

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