More than one-third of the Vikings roster — 39 players to be exact — did not play in last year’s preseason finale as starters, injured players and even some primary backups took a seat. The same is expected Thursday night, opening the depth chart to many players eager to record good performances as auditions for either the Vikings or another NFL team.
There are a few, quarterback Trevor Siemian included, who are expected to play to try and bounce back from disappointing efforts this preseason, even if their roster spots are secure. The majority, however, will be competing for the final handful of jobs open. The most intriguing competitions continue on offense, where the reserve running backs, receivers and offensive linemen have jockeyed all month for their place on the depth chart.
1. How will the receivers shake out? The Vikings seem destined to keep an injured receiver on the 53-man roster, but will it be Stacy Coley, Chad Beebe or Tarvarres King? None of the three is expected to play against the Titans, opening lanes for Brandon Zylstra and others to make a late push. Zylstra is expected to play more than the 12 snaps he got against the Seahawks as he worked back from a hamstring injury.
2. Can specialists end on a good note? After “unacceptable” performances in last week’s dress rehearsal against the Seahawks, special teams coordinator Mike Priefer is looking for his kicker and punter to rebound — and for young players to earn jobs on return and coverage teams. Rookie Daniel Carlson made all five kicks in Tuesday’s practice. He needs to put together a good showing against the Titans to restore faith after missing two attempts and botching a couple kickoffs last week. The Vikings have allowed one big return each preseason game (last week’s return was negated by penalty). Perhaps a job can be won with a simple tackle Thursday night.
3. Will the No. 3 running back please stand up? Mike Boone, the undrafted standout from Cincinnati, leads the Vikings backfield with 174 yards from scrimmage this preseason. Roc Thomas, expected to return after he was injured Aug. 18 against Jacksonville, is right on his heels with 168 yards from scrimmage in limited action. Throw Mack Brown into the mix again, and the Vikings have a showdown ahead in Tennessee. All three running backs are vying for the No. 3 running back job behind Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray. Boone, the healthiest and most productive of the three this preseason, is the expected front-runner.
4. Are there six linebackers worth keeping through the weekend? Mike Zimmer has said he’s not pleased with his linebacker depth. Players can try to change his mind against the Titans, specifically Antwione Williams and Reshard Cliett, who are penciled into the No. 5 and No. 6 spots with Kentrell Brothers set to serve a four-game suspension. The Vikings could get by with five linebackers while awaiting Brothers’ return. Will Williams or Cliett state a strong final case, or will the Vikings need to pore over the weekend’s waiver wire for help? Rookie Devante Downs is not expected to play because of a foot injury suffered last week against the Seahawks.
5. When will the offensive line depth be settled? Guard Danny Isidora ramped up his reps at center during this week’s practice, indicating he’ll likely play some center against the Titans. Two of the Vikings’ three healthy centers — Brett Jones and J.P. Quinn — have been acquired since July 24. That position remains muddled as Pat Elflein still hasn’t practiced this preseason while recovering from two offseason surgeries. If center Cornelius Edison plays, he could get some reps at guard. Jones, whom the Vikings traded for on Sunday, is likely to play both center and guard just four days after practicing for the Giants.