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Sorting things out: Projecting the Vikings' regular season roster

Plenty of questions remain on the Vikings roster with three preseason games to be played in the next two weeks.

But let’s stop for a second to take stock of where things stand, from our point of view, in between the Vikings’ exhibition opener in Buffalo and Friday’s second preseason game in Seattle. Below is our second 53-man roster projection of the summer.

OFFENSE

Quarterbacks (3): Sam Bradford, Case Keenum, Taylor Heinicke

Teddy Bridgewater has a few weeks to return to practice before he’ll transfer to the regular season Physically Unable to Perform list, where he’ll be required to sit six games before he’s again eligible to return to practice. This projection is assuming Bridgewater will still be on PUP. Keenum to this point has been the more stable option at backup quarterback. The Vikings often keep three healthy passers on the active roster.

Running backs (3): Dalvin Cook, Latavius Murray, Jerick McKinnon

Don’t sleep on fullback C.J. Ham, the converted running back from Duluth, but at this point the Vikings could use tight end David Morgan in a similar backfield role. Ham is eligible for the practice squad.

Receivers (6): Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Laquon Treadwell, Jarius Wright, Rodney Adams, Stacy Coley

Veteran Michael Floyd will be on the suspended list for the first four games, freeing up a roster spot for a young receiver like Adams or Coley. Both Coley and Adams have flashed some playmaking ability in this young preseason.

Tight ends (4): Kyle Rudolph, David Morgan, Kyle Carter, Bucky Hodges

Carter, undrafted last year out of Penn State, has been heavily involved this summer, including a TE-high 21 snaps in Buffalo, and looks poised to seize a roster spot. Hodges, the rookie, has plenty of room to grow, but his upside as a receiver could warrant a spot.

Offensive line (9): OT Riley Reiff, OT Mike Remmers, G Alex Boone, C/G Nick Easton, C/G Pat Elflein, C/G Joe Berger, OT Rashod Hill, G/T Jeremiah Sirles, G Danny Isidora

This is where the roster hits a logjam with plenty of young and inexperienced linemen competing for spots. Willie Beavers, last year’s fourth-round pick, has shown some improvement at right tackle and could push Sirles for a spot. T.J. Clemmings’ move to guard also seems to suit him, but the Vikings may like the upside of Isidora instead.

DEFENSE

Defensive line (9): DE Everson Griffen, DE Danielle Hunter, DE Brian Robison, DE Stephen Weatherly, DT Linval Joseph, DT Tom Johnson, DT Datone Jones, DT Jaleel Johnson, DT Shamar Stephen

The Vikings kept five defensive ends a couple years ago when Justin Trattou had a strong preseason. That might be the case with rookie Tashawn Bower, the undrafted LSU product who stood out during the exhibition opener in Buffalo. Here instead are five defensive tackles after the Vikings were shorthanded at DT last season. Should a roster spot come between Stephen and fourth-round pick Jaleel Johnson, the Vikings could keep another pass rusher like Bower. Defensive tackle Will Sutton and rookie end Ifeadi Odenigbo are also in the mix. Sharrif Floyd is expected to start the season on the reserve/non-football injury list.

Linebackers (6): OLB Anthony Barr, LB Eric Kendricks, OLB Edmond Robinson, OLB Emmanuel Lamur, LB Ben Gedeon, LB Kentrell Brothers

Gedeon, a fourth-round pick, has also been heavily involved this summer. He continues to mix in with the first-team defense at weak-side linebacker, where Lamur and Robinson are also competing. All three have been fronting special teams units and are likely to make the team. Brothers (hamstring) needs to get healthy and play this preseason to hold off rookies Elijah Lee and Eric Wilson from taking a roster spot.

Defensive backs (10): CB Xavier Rhodes, CB Trae Waynes, CB Mackensie Alexander, CB Terence Newman, CB Marcus Sherels, S Harrison Smith, S Andrew Sendejo, S Anthony Harris, S Jayron Kearse, DB Antone Exum Jr. 

Exum Jr. has been healthy and active since landing on crutches with an injured knee earlier this spring. He’s also been revisiting the slot corner role and could be a versatile role player for the Vikings in his fourth NFL season. That’s why he’s ahead of rookie Jack Tocho, the cornerback-turned-safety, at this point. Jabari Price will get a chance to earn his spot, but the top five cornerback spots should be considered locked ending with Sherels, the dynamic punt returner.

Specialists (3): K Kai Forbath, P Ryan Quigley, LS Kevin McDermott

Like the Vikings ‘unofficial’ depth chart, the veterans hold the lead here in specialists competitions even though punter Taylor Symmank and kicker Marshall Koehn could supplant either. Both have strong upside, but need to show the consistency of their veteran counterparts.

How much will Vikings starters play? Zimmer weighing the variables

Redskins linebacker Trent Murphy. Redskins safety Su’a Cravens. Lions defensive end Kerry Hyder. Chargers linebacker Denzel Perryman. Packers cornerback Damarious Randall. Dolphins linebacker Raekwon McMillan.

Those are just six of the significant players injured during the first week of the NFL preseason.

That’s on the mind of Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer, who is still deciding how much his starters will play in the next two exhibitions before shutting most down for the preseason finale. Is he going to stick with the traditional first half for starters during the third game on Aug. 27?

“You know, I’m honestly really weighing that a lot,” Zimmer said Tuesday. “I happened to have the game on in the background and I saw two defensive starters go out for the season [this weekend]. And I saw one team had five guys injured.”

“It’s a really fine line,” Zimmer added. “My concern is all right, how much do we weigh the guys that I really know — I have an idea if they can play — just getting them in there to play and the backfire to that is really, are they going to be in shape for Sept. 11? That’s something I’m contemplating right now.”

The Vikings didn’t make it out of Buffalo unscathed during the preseason opener last week, losing running back Bishop Sankey to a torn ACL. Starting cornerback Trae Waynes also exited after two snaps due to what Zimmer called a “sore shoulder.” Waynes has not yet fully returned to practice as of Tuesday morning.

Preseason reps for the starting offense is likely more of a conundrum for Zimmer after an underwhelming showing in Buffalo. Quarterback Sam Bradford and the starters picked up just one first down on three series against the Bills.

“I’d like to see them play better,” he said.

The Vikings had a set number of plays for the starting offense in Buffalo. On Friday night in Seattle, Zimmer said he’s thought about forgoing a prescribed snap count to instead wait for a successful drive.

“Possibly,” he said. “I mean, I feel like we have to develop a rhythm here a little bit and get going from there.”

Some quick hits from Zimmer’s Tuesday press conference:

On if preseason wins (Zimmer is 13-1 in exhibitions) mean anything:
“It really doesn’t,” he said. “I do think it’s good to win. If we’re playing tiddlywinks, I think it’s good to win. I think the competitor part of me, it’s always good. At the end of the day, does it matter? No. But I think the competitive nature of your team, especially if you’ve got a young team getting used to winning — that’s good. I know the record. We don’t really go out of our way to win, but I like to win, yeah.”

On facing the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field:
“Number one, I always liked playing somewhere in the preseason on the road that’s going to be loud,” Zimmer said. “It’s more like a true in-season game atmosphere. I think that will be good. Obviously the Seahawks defense is really good. They got guys up front that can rush. They got corners that can play man-to-man. Safety in the middle of the field that can go and linebackers that can run. It’ll be good for us.”

On if facing a team like the Seahawks means he wants to see more of the starters:
“We may,” Zimmer said. “I haven’t told the coaches yet what I’m going to do for the game, but I do think that it’s going to give us a chance to evaluate a lot of guys as well, so you can kind of see them against better players. We may get some of the younger guys in earlier, but at the end of the day we still have to try to get ready for the regular season.”

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