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The ability to return punts gives cornerback Marcus Sherels (35) an edge in keeping a roster spot.

Andy King, Associated Press - Ap

VIKINGS PRESEASON

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Vikings Insider: It's time for some roster roulette

  • Article by: DAN WIEDERER
  • Star Tribune
  • August 28, 2012 - 6:47 AM

And the cuts will keep coming ...

The Vikings trimmed their roster from 90 players to 75 Saturday with no surprise casualties. But by Friday, at least 22 more players will be gone as the organization assembles its 53-man roster.

With that in mind, we explore three questions General Manager Rick Spielman and coach Leslie Frazier will be sorting through before then.

How many players from the 10-man 2012 draft class will stick around?

Receiver Greg Childs, one of three players taken in the fourth round, will spend the season on injured reserve after injuring both knees in a training camp scrimmage. As for the other nine drafted rookies? First-rounders Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith will be opening-day starters. Josh Robinson, Jarius Wright, Rhett Ellison and Blair Walsh are also locks to make the roster. So that leaves safety Robert Blanton, linebacker Audie Cole and defensive tackle Trevor Guyton sweating things out.

Blanton, a fifth-round pick, hasn't played in three preseason games but will see extensive action Thursday in Houston. The Vikings certainly wish he was further along in his development but are also highly unlikely to do anything rash with a promising player who they're putting through a conversion from cornerback to safety. He's as good as safe.

Cole's solid preseason, including two interception return touchdowns against Buffalo, gives him a better chance to make the team. If the Vikings keep six linebackers, the final two spots may come down to Cole, Tyrone McKenzie and Larry Dean, with a game of musical chairs ensuing this week.

Guyton struggled to adapt to the speed of the NFL, doesn't really project as a nose tackle and instead finds himself behind Christian Ballard in the quest to supply depth behind Kevin Williams at under tackle. Guyton could be the lone drafted rookie to get cut Friday.

It's also worth noting that seven undrafted rookies survived the first cut -- most notably cornerback Bobby Felder, who could, at the very least, find his way onto the practice squad.

What are the biggest questions in the secondary?

This will become a numbers game for Spielman and Frazier, who might be tempted to retain as many as 11 defensive backs. No one at Winter Park has forgotten the attrition of 2011 when starters Antoine Winfield, Chris Cook and Husain Abdullah, plus Tyrell Johnson, were all lost for the season at some point. That left the Vikings to hold the secondary together with chicken wire and bubble gum. (Remember those desperation acquisitions of Benny Sapp and Jarrad Page? Remember that starting cornerback trio of Asher Allen, Marcus Sherels and Brandon Burton on Christmas Eve?)

In a pass-happy division, the Vikings can ill afford to be caught too thin in the defensive backfield.

Defensive coordinator Alan Williams was asked how many defensive backs he'd like to keep.

"Twenty," he joked before later adding, "with this being a passing league, you can never have too many."

If the Vikings opt to keep five safeties, Andrew Sendejo and Eric Frampton will be in a battle to be the final safety to join Harrison Smith, Jamarca Sanford, Mistral Raymond and Blanton.

The conversation will be a bit complicated at corner. The top four there are Winfield, Cook, Chris Carr and Robinson. Veteran Zack Bowman might also be kept around given his experience and special teams value. But then that leaves a heated competition among Sherels, Burton, Reggie Jones and Felder for one or possibly two roster spots.

Sherels' reliability as a punt returner would be his ticket to sticking around. The Vikings are yet to feel secure with other options there.

"I'm not ready to throw Marcus away," special teams coach Mike Priefer said.

In the Vikings' quest to make significant strides forward, the assurance of quality secondary depth might be the second-most important piece of the puzzle behind only Christian Ponder's second year growth.

Who will be the Vikings' No. 3 running back? And does it really matter?

Let's face it, rebuilding projects aren't typically boosted much by a team's third running back. But in the Vikings' case, when it's still a major unknown how explosive top back Adrian Peterson can be in 2012, that depth in the running back stable takes on far greater importance.

So who will join Peterson and Toby Gerhart on the opening day roster? When training camp began, it seemed to be a race between Lex Hilliard and Jordan Todman. But Hilliard hasn't stood out and hurt his cause Friday by losing a fumble on one of his two carries. And Todman, because of a lingering ankle sprain, has missed a lot of practice time and has only two carries in three preseason games.

That's opened the door for Matt Asiata, who's more of a fullback but has rushed for 91 yards on 16 carries the past two games.

Todman, as healthy as he's been since training camp began, should see extensive action in Houston.

But on Sunday, Frazier also hinted the Vikings will be keeping a "Help Wanted" sign posted, potentially looking to scour the waiver wire for another backfield option.

"We'll see what happens on Thursday night," Frazier said.

"Hopefully somebody will take the bull by the horns and really separate themselves and say, 'This is my position. This is my job on this football team.'"

Dan Wiederer • dan.wiederer@startribune.com

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