Don’t tell Marcus Sherels that the Vikings’ fourth and final preseason game was meaningless.
Fighting for a roster spot while grieving the death of his father, Sherels returned a kickoff 109 yards and intercepted a pass in span of 3 minutes, 16 seconds in the third quarter to make a strong case that he deserves a roster spot.
Sherels’ double dose of highlights helped the Vikings avoid a winless preseason with a 24-23 victory against the Tennessee Titans at Mall of America Field.
The Vikings finished the preseason 1-3 and now turn their sights on the Sept. 8 opener in Detroit. The Vikings must trim their roster to 53 by Saturday’s 5 p.m. deadline.
On a night devoted strictly to evaluating backups and players on the bubble, Sherels delivered an emotional performance that drew praise throughout the locker room.
“For him to come out and play the way he did tonight tells you a lot about Marcus’ heart and his character,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said.
Sherels, a former Gopher, has endured a difficult training camp while coping with his father’s death. His dad, Ben, died of cancer on the eve of the first preseason game in early August. Marcus missed the third preseason game in San Francisco this past Sunday as his family held his father’s funeral.
Sherels told Frazier in a private meeting that he was concerned about missing the game because he is fighting for a roster spot. Frazier’s words eased his mind.
“Nothing is more important than being there with your mother and brothers and sisters during that time,” Frazier said.
Said Sherels of their talk: “It was awesome. I am glad I made that decision.”
Sherels has earned deep respect inside the organization because he’s a perpetual underdog who continues to finds ways to make the team. He began his career as a long shot and he starts each training camp on the bubble.
“It just seems like every year he’s one of those guys you’re wondering if he’s going to make it this time,” Frazier said. “[You’re wondering], who is going to push him and maybe take his spot on the roster?”
Sherels has faced tight competition from Bobby Felder for the punt returner job and backup cornerback. Felder was one of the biggest surprises in preseason — particularly as a returner — but he was carted to the locker room with a sprained ankle in the fourth quarter.
Sherels already had made his case by then. He took the second-half kickoff 9 yards deep and found a wide lane along the sideline for a clear path to the end zone. A few minutes later, he intercepted a pass near midfield.
“Everybody loves the way Marcus competes,” Frazier said. “We were all pulling for him. He was playing with a heavy heart. To see him make those plays, our whole sideline was just jubilant to see him come out and play the way he did knowing what’s on his mind and what this week has been like for him.”
As expected, the Vikings rested their starters and even key backups. The Titans gave their starting quarterback Jake Locker and his first-team offensive line one series before calling it a night.
The game had a scary moment in the second quarter when Vikings offensive guard Seth Olsen took a knee to the head and was removed from the field on a cart. Olsen was blocking on a screen pass and was kneed in the head by Tennessee linebacker Scott Solomon. Afterward, the Vikings were relieved to learn that he suffered only a concussion.
Frazier was pleased to conclude the preseason with a victory after his team struggled in the first three games, particularly on offense. The team now must reduce the roster from 75 to 53.
The waiting game is an anxious time for players on the bubble. That includes Sherels, who knows the drill by now.
“Same as it’s been the past three years for me,” he said. “It’s not really in my hands. It’s out of my control. I’ll just sit and wait.”
He should be able to rest easier after Thursday.