NASHVILLE – To whatever extent the final preseason game serves as a closing argument for players trying to claim the final spots on an NFL roster, the Vikings’ 13-3 win over the Tennessee Titans on Thursday night might have helped the cause of several players.
Mike Boone put himself in strong position to win the Vikings’ No. 3 running back job, building on an impressive preseason with 109 combined rushing and receiving yards Thursday night. Wide receiver Brandon Zylstra, who has been limited by a hamstring injury for much of the preseason, came back with a 24-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter from No. 3 quarterback Kyle Sloter. And a Vikings defensive line that has showcased its depth throughout the preseason enjoyed another strong night in Nashville.
As the Vikings now head into the process of trimming their roster to 53 players before Saturday’s 3 p.m. deadline, they will weigh the final impressions made by the players on the back half of their roster on Thursday night, when most of the Vikings’ established players watched from the sidelines.
“I thought there were some good things tonight,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “I thought Holton Hill did a nice job in the return game. I thought our defensive line played pretty well. Mike Boone showed a couple things tonight. We’re excited to get the preseason over with, and start focusing on somebody else.”
Only 52 of the players on the Vikings’ 90-man roster dressed for the team’s final preseason game. They started Danny Isidora at center after working him there all week, shifting the second-year player to left guard in the second half while Brett Jones moved from guard to center.
Early in the game, the Vikings got little time to evaluate the two linemen they might ask to step in at center if Pat Elflein isn’t ready for the start of the regular season; the Vikings were forced to punt on quarterback Trevor Siemian’s first two drives.
Siemian directed a scoring drive late in the second quarter, though, hitting Zylstra on a 16-yard crossing route on fourth-and-5.
“It was a little slow early on,” Siemian said. “I certainly would like a little more rhythm early on. But I thought we got something going there a little bit toward the end of the second quarter. You get a small sample size; you’d like to keep going and get into the game a little bit, but that’s how it goes.”
The Vikings initially planned to go for it on another fourth down from the Titans 21, as coach Mike Zimmer pulled long snapper Kevin McDermott back to the sideline. But after thinking better of it during the two-minute warning, the Vikings opted for a 39-yard Daniel Carlson field goal, and the rookie drilled his kick after missing wide left twice last Friday.
The night wasn’t without its hiccups, though, for a special teams group that’s had a rocky preseason.
Punter Ryan Quigley — who had a net average of just 34.2 yards per punt in the Vikings’ first three preseason games thanks to a pair of long returns — entered Thursday’s game hoping to close the exhibition schedule on a strong note. His second-quarter punt, though, was partially blocked and traveled just 29 yards. Quigley did get a favorable bounce on a later punt that went 61 yards.
After allowing a 69-yard drive in the first quarter that resulted in a field goal, the Vikings held Tennessee to just 28 yards in the second quarter, as their line came at quarterback Luke Falk in waves.
Defensive end Stephen Weatherly recorded a sack, while fourth-round pick Jalyn Holmes posted 1 ½ sacks from the middle of the Vikings defensive line.
Defensive end Tashawn Bower had another strong night against the run, and linebacker Eric Wilson had six tackles.
Wilson was tied for the team lead in tackles on Thursday night with cornerback Hill, who also broke up a pass and started the second half with a 53-yard kickoff return.
“I haven’t been a kick returner consistently since I was in high school,” Hill said. “It was good to be back there, have the ball in my hand and try to make something happen.”