Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.
Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.
The Vikings finished their preseason with a 24-23 victory over Tennessee on Thursday night and now comes the hard part.
The team must trim the roster from 75 to 53 by Saturday's 5 p.m. deadline. Leslie Frazier, his coaching staff and general manager Rick Spielman will meet today to begin setting the final roster.
The team could begin informing players today but the Vikings won't announce the moves officially until Saturday afternoon.
These two days are anxious times for players on the bubble.
"It is without question one of the toughest parts," Frazier said of releasing players. "When you sit down and realize that for a lot of the guys that played tonight, they will probably never wear an NFL uniform again and we have to sit down and discuss who those guys might be. When you sit down with them on that Saturday, or Friday, they come by the office and you explain to them their career in Minnesota for sure is going to be over, and there’s a possibility it may be over for good, it can get emotional."
Spielman has final say over roster decisions, but Frazier said personnel matters are a collaborative effort with the coaching staff.
"Rick is going to give his input and I’m going to share my input, but he is going to make that final decision," Frazier said. "One of the things that he’s learned and I’ve learned is that you don’t want to make that decision about a player if the coaches, the head coach in particular, are totally against it. It’s hard if as a coach, you have to get this guy going and so on and then you don’t necessarily believe in it. It’s a tough deal, but we’ve been very fortunate in our relationship where we can discuss every single guy, talk about what needs to be done and what’s best for our football team. Whether it be the draft or whether it be the 75 or the 53, we have always been able to come to an agreement and make it work for our team."
Asked if he has a chip he can use if he wants a certain player, Frazier laughed.
The Vikings, who have their final preseason game against Tennessee tonight at 7 at the Metrodome, will have to cut their roster to 53 by 5 p.m. on Saturday.
The eight-man practice squad can be formed from eligible players after those players clear waivers. In general, practice squad-eligible players haven’t been active for more than eight NFL games and can’t be on the practice squad for more than two years. So, yeah, the Vikings can’t stash Joe Webb on that practice squad, folks.
Here is the Vikings’ unofficial depth chart. Feel free to make yourself part of the team’s staff and figure out which 22 players you can whack to get to 53. Keep in mind you will have the practice squad, which means there are 61 guys around, but it’s often hard for teams to sneak rookies through waivers, so be careful about your cuts.
VIKINGS DEPTH CHART
WR: Jerome Simpson, Cordarrelle Patterson*, Joe Webb, Rodney Smith*
LT: Matt Kalil, Kevin Murphy, DeMarcus Love
LG: Charlie Johnson, Jeff Baca*
C: John Sullivan, Joe Berger
RG: Brandon Fusco, Seth Olsen, Travis Bond*
RT: Phil Loadholt, Brandon Keith, Troy Kropog
TE: Kyle Rudolph, John Carlson, Rhett Ellison, Chase Ford, Colin Anderson*
WR: Greg Jennings, Jarius Wright, Stephen Burton, Adam Thielen*
QB: Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel, McLeod Bethel-Thompson
FB: Jerome Felton, Zach Line*
HB: Adrian Peterson, Toby Gerhart, Matt Asiata, Joe Banyard
LE: Brian Robison, Everson Griffen, D'Aundre Reed
NT: Letroy Guion, Fred Evans, Chase Baker, Anthony McCloud*
UT: Kevin Williams, Sharrif Floyd*, Everett Dawkins*, Spencer Nealy*
RE: Jared Allen, Everson Griffen, George Johnson, Collins Ukwu*
SLB: Chad Greenway, Larry Dean
MLB: Erin Henderson, Audie Cole, Michael Mauti*
WLB: Marvin Mitchell, Desmond Bishop, Tyrone McKenzie, Gerald Hodges*
LCB: Josh Robinson, Xavier Rhodes*, Marcus Sherels
RCB: Chris Cook, A.J. Jefferson, Brandon Burton, Bobby Felder
SS: Jamarca Sanford, Mistral Raymond, Andrew Sendejo, Darius Eubanks*
FS: Harrison Smith, Robert Blanton, Brandan Bishop*
SPECIAL TEAMS (3)
P: Jeff Locke*
K: Blair Walsh
LS: Cullen Loeffler
KEEP IN MIND: RETURN DEPTH CHART
KR: Cordarrelle Patterson*, Marcus Sherels, Stephen Burton, A.J. Jefferson
PR: Marcus Sherels, Bobby Felder, Jarius Wright, Stephen Burton
Note: DT Christian Ballard (Active/Left Squad) does not count on the current roster; Felton will start the season with a three-game suspension and will not count against the 53-man roster.
It'll be pretty slow on the Vikings front for the next month ... the only real news dangling out there is where former Packers LB Desmond Bishop will land, and it could be with the Vikings.
Bishop said Thursday that the New York Giants and Jacksonville might be next on his visit list, after stops at Winter Park and in Kansas City. So that situation seems likely to drag out a bit.
Nothing eventful from the Vikings mini-camp, but lots of access for the media. Here are a few leftover nuggets from coach Leslie Frazier and the team's coordinators (hey, someone transcribed all this, we might as well get some in the paper):
Frazier on his final message to his team: Just reminding them about the things they’ve got to get done in this time away and remember that they represent us in their hometowns, wherever they travel at, that we all represent one another and take care of their bodies. It’s going to be an important time away, but rest and do the things you want to do but take care of your bodies.
Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer on new punter Jeff Locke: Very talented like we knew he was. He’s working very hard. I knew he would be a hard worker, I didn’t realize to this extent. He does everything I ask him to do drill wise and more. He is very contentious. He’s worked very hard as a holder as well so everything is going in the right direction. He’s got just a couple things we’re working on with his footwork, taking out some of the wasted motion that he had coming from college. He’s worked very hard at that and we’re definitely seeing some progress. He has to get his get-off a little bit quicker and overall it’s going to make him a more consistent performer and that’s obviously what we’re looking for.
Priefer on ex-Vikings punter Chris Kluwe: A lot of people like to write and report that he and I didn’t get along but I have a lot of respect for Chris Kluwe, based on what he’s done in his career as a man and as an athlete. For anybody that stands up for what he believes in like Chris did, I have a lot of respect for guys like that. We had a long talk after the draft. He knew the writing was on the wall and I wasn’t going to lie to him, I figured if a young guy came in and had a good rookie mini camp then that was what was going to happen. I wish him the best of luck in Oakland, I really do.
Frazier on quarterback Christian Ponder: I really like the way that he has matured mentally and just seeing how he has taken the reins from a leadership standpoint. He is more vocal than he has been in the past. His football above the neck has been impressive in the time that we’ve been out here on the field practicing. So he’s got the athletic ability but you want him to make good decisions under the center and some of the things he’s done in these practices kind of leads me to believe, along with our staff, that he’s grown a lot in that area making better decisions with the football, which should in turn help us down the line. He’s worked his tail off trying to improve his accuracy. Our coaches have put him through a bunch of different drills and through his hard work I think he’s improved in that area. Now we’ve got some things we’ve got to get done in training camp, but he’s put in the work to improve and we are seeing it.
Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave on Ponder: This is his second orthodox offseason. He didn’t have one initially after he was drafted so there are much fewer unknowns for him at this stage even than there were a year ago. He knows more of what to expect and let himself go a little bit and not be so guarded. We always want to be accurate and we’re always working on our feet in the quarterback room. His decision making we’re assessing every day with all these competitive periods. It’s been good.
Musgrave on balancing an offense that includes NFL rushing champion Adrian Peterson: The more first downs we get, the more we get to stay on the field. Offense is so different from defense, where on defense if you’re successful you get to go three-and-out and sit on the bench. On offense we want to stay out there. So the better we become running the ball, which we’re already pretty good with Adrian, if we can be better throwing the ball we can stay out there and everybody can get more touches or more opportunities and that’s our plan, to be more productive in the passing game, to balance the running game with Adrian and then everyone will get their shot.
Musgrave on the battle for third-string quarterback between James Vandenberg and McLeod Bethel-Thompson: We like both of them. They both have done a good job. They both get the scraps. They don’t get a lot of plays. They stand back there for 15, 20, 25 minutes, get cold and then they get thrown in there and asked to perform at a high level, but both of them are very sharp and they’re working very hard. [Vandenberg has] great visualization skills. He doesn’t get a lot of turns, but I feel like he knows our system very well. He visualizes the concepts, he knows protections and when he gets in there the wheels don’t fall off. He definitely belongs up here.
Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams on rookie linebacker Gerald Hodges: He has great feet. It looks like looks like he has good instincts. I can’t wait until the pads get on to see how he hits and how he runs around and mixes it up. I think that’s what all the coaches are waiting on to see. Right now we are just in shorts and they all look great so I’m trying to temper my enthusiasm and wait until we get pads on.
Frazier on his expectations for rookie defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd: We’d like to be able to get him in a rotation system where he’s a part of what we’re doing with our four-down when he’s getting in sometimes with Kevin [Williams] and just rotate. Hopefully it gets to the point where he’s productive enough where he can warrant increased reps as the year goes on. That would be optimum if he’s able to get in the rotation, have success and we can gradually add more reps to his play as the season goes on.
Williams on Floyd: He’s quick twitch, he can anchor in the run, he’s very disruptive at the three and he has good pass-rush moves. I know his stats may not have shown it, but he’s been tremendous in these OTAs and he’s another one where we can’t wait to get the pads on to kind of see what happens when we get the pads on and if he’s still as productive. The one thing with him, and I just mentioned it a second ago about young guys playing situational football and the situations are new to them and they make some mistakes, he’s game ready. He had a good coach at Florida and they prepared him well and it’s not too much different what we’re doing here. So a lot of things translate over to what he did in college, so we’re looking for good things from him.
The Brian Urlacher-to-the-Vikings rumor reading has moved from tepid to cool today after Vikings coach Leslie Frazier shot down Tuesday's report by a Chicago Sun-Times gossip columnist that Urlacher was leaning toward signing with the team.
Frazier said today on NFL AM that the Vikings would continue to plan on using players already on their team at the middle linebacking spot.
Said Frazier: "Brian has been a great player in our league for a long, long time. He was a thorn in our side for many years. At this point we want to look at the guys on our roster, give them a chance to compete for the middle linebacker position then we'll see where it takes us."
Erin Henderson continues to be the leading candidate to move from the outside to the middle for the Vikings.
Tuesday's report, along with the Vikings' rookie signings, can be found here.
Here's the transcript, courtesy of nfl.com, of Frazier's chat:
On if running back Adrian Peterson has wanted to work out too hard this offseason:
“It kind of happened not by his choice. He had the abdominal strain late in the season and that has kind of slowed him this offseason as far as being able to kick things into overdrive and doing things the way he wants to do it. It has slowed him down a little bit, but he just about back to 100% doing everything he needs to be able to do to be in the best possible shape for this season.”
On if the offseason moves were geared towards easing the workload of running back Adrian Peterson:
“We would like to be more balanced. We obviously pride ourselves on being able to run the football and being able to stop the run on defense but we think in order to take that next step, as a team and as an offense, we need to be able to create that balance by being able to pass the ball a little bit better. We think with the acquisition of Greg, along with what we did in the draft, and some of the other guys coming back – a healthy Jerome Simpson, our tight end Kyle Rudolph – we think we are going to be a better team throwing the football, which should, hopefully, open up more holes for Adrian Peterson.”
On quarterback Christian Ponder:
“This will be his third season, his second season as a full time starter. We are expecting him to take another step forward. We saw glimpses in the month in December – when we went 4-0 – of what he can be. We are really excited about some of the things we saw down the stretch of the season and we are looking for him to carry that over to our next season.”
On if the Vikings are interested in linebacker Brian Urlacher
“Brian has been a great player in our league for a long, long time. He has been a torn in our side for many years. At this point, we want to take a look at the guys on our roster, give them a chance to compete for the middle linebacker position and then we will see where it takes us.”
On new Vikings wide receiver Greg Jennings:
“His experience jumps out at you for sure. Knowing where we are, at the receiver position, having a guy of his caliber – a Pro Bowl player, a great player in our league for a number of years now – his leadership, his experience, his big play ability, it’s still there. He was been banged up a bit the last couple of years but he is healthy now. We are looking forward to him having a great season in Minnesota.”
On the three first round draft picks: defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, cornerback Xavier Rhodes, and wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson:
“I like our guys. They are going to be good players for our football team. We are hoping they are going to have an impact this first season.”
On if the expects the first round picks to be week 1 starters:
“There is enough competition on our team where they don’t have to come in and start right away. But if that were to happen, it would be a good thing for our team. Each one will have a chance to start.”
On if defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd is upset with how far he fell in the draft:
“He pretty excited about being a Minnesota Viking. Once you get to know Sharrif, you realize he is a very humble guy who kind of gets it for a young guy. He is not caught up on where he was taken. He is happy to be a Viking.”
The Vikings signed three draft picks -- linebackers Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti, and defensive tackle Everett Dawkins -- today.
Hodges was a fourth-round selection (120th overall), while Mauti (213th) and Dawkins (229th) were seventh rounders. Hodges and Mauti are from Penn State, while Dawkins played at Florida State.
The signings were announced by the team. Hodges posted his signing on Twitter. He called it the happiest moment of his life.
A video review of the Vikings picks, if you have a little time to watch, is here. Sid also broke down the Penn State linebackers here. (Just wanted to use "Sid broke down" in the context of Sid breaking down film. Not sure that line worked.)
Other Vikings notes:
Michael Sneed, who apparently is quite comfortable referring to herself in the third person, wrote: Sneed hears that former Chicago Bear Brian Urlacher, whose stellar, longtime career with the Bears began with a growl and ended with a whimper, is getting close to finding a new pigskin playground. Sneed is told that Urlacher, whose decision to leave the Bears followed their offer of a $1.6 million renewal contract, has been talking to the Minnesota Vikings and the Denver Broncos. “It’s getting close to happening, but Brian is leaning toward heading to Minnesota and is talking a one to two year contract,” said a source close to Urlacher.
As they used to say on Hee Haw, we don't like to repeat rumors ... so you better listen closely the first time.
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