One of the big offseason changes in the NFL was the decision to let teams keep up to 90 players on the roster until after the final preseason game.
It used to be that coaches and general managers made a big cutdown to 75 players before their final preseason game, but now there will be no middle cut as rosters get down to 53 players for opening day.
Vikings General Manger Rick Spielman said he loves the new rule because it gives teams a lot more time to consider which players they want to keep either on the 53-man roster or on the practice squad. However, it is going to make for a crazy few days after that final preseason game on Aug. 31.
“Very excited about that. One, you get an extra week with these guys to make some decisions,” Spielman said. “Some of these guys, even though they may not be bubble 53 guys, they may be bubble guys that you look at as practice squad guys. We’ll get an opportunity to see those.
“The biggest change will be there will be 1,200 names that come off Saturday night and we have to make some decisions by Sunday morning. That will be a long night to see if we can pick any up to potentially help our team, there will be a lot of trades going on there during that time. … That’s the last chance you really have an opportunity to make a move here or there to help your team before the season starts.”
When it comes to his own team, Spielman said that he can already tell there are going to be some tough calls in cutting players.
“I think we have a lot of competition going on, especially at certain positions, the defensive line and trying to figure out some of these linebackers who all play pretty well, and getting through the offensive line and where we’re going to be at by the time that settles,” he said. “We have a pretty good group of receivers. I think it will play out. … We’re just going through our process right now.”
And while Spielman always has input on personnel decisions, he says that when it comes to training camp and preseason personnel moves, he spends a lot of time listening to his coaches and working to have everyone on the same page.
“Just listening to what the coaches are saying and who they’re correcting and what’s good or bad,” he said. “I take a lot of notes out of the practice — just on things I’m seeing, and then we come in to watch the tape after practice just to verify some of the things you see with your own eyes.
“So just like a lot of things that I do when I try to get out to the college games, things you can’t see on tape, mannerisms, who’s getting corrected, how are they reacting, lot of those things I try to observe during practices.”
One of Spielman’s biggest offseason tasks was deciding whether to keep former MVP Adrian Peterson, which he decided not to do, and then to replace Peterson’s production.
The first back Spielman talked about was Dalvin Cook, whom he made the Vikings’ first pick in the second round of the 2017 draft.
“He has been very good, very smart kid, can do multiple things for you on offense — not only as a runner but what he does as a receiver out of the backfield,” Spielman said. “We’re very excited and feel very fortunate we have him on the roster.”
The Vikings had to add another back to their preseason roster, but Spielman thinks once everyone gets healthy, it’s going to be a solid group.
“We lost Sankey — Bishop Sankey was having a great camp for us, tore his ACL against Buffalo so wanted to get another back in,” Spielman said. “As Latavius [Murray] is getting back into the swing and [Jerick] McKinnon we held last week with a little bit of a pulled hamstring. We wanted to make sure we had enough depth until those guys can get back and get ready to go.”
Youth on the line?
With so many options on the offensive line, Spielman talked about two of the early surprises: the play of Danny Isidora, the fifth-round pick out of Miami at guard, and Pat Elflein, the third-round pick out of Ohio State at center.
“Danny Isidora, we’ve been playing him at right guard and, you know, he came in and has done an outstanding job,” Spielman said. “He’s a physical guy, very athletic, still learning — as many of these young guys are. … Very excited about the things he has shown and the direction he is headed.
“[Elflein] was one of our top-graded lineman that played a significant amount of time. The one thing you notice is the finish he does on blocks. That’s one thing we wanted, to make sure we have that mentality that Coach [Mike] Zimmer wants up front. Smart guys, but they are tough guys and they are going to set the tone because we really believe that’s where you win or lose ballgames. We think he has shown a lot of that.”
Still Spielman didn’t want to get too far ahead of himself with rookie offensive linemen.
“We homed in on are not only tough, physical guys, but guys that are smart enough to handle all of that,” he said. “All of our young guys we’re very happy about the progress they’ve made so far, but we still have a long ways to go yet.”
• The Gophers got great news with the recent NCAA Academic Progress Rate (APR) announcement for 2016. The football team tied for sixth in the nation, trailing only Dartmouth, Northwestern, Air Force, Penn, Elon and Michigan. Head football coach P.J. Fleck said, “We have the highest [rate] of any public institution [overall]. It’s Notre Dame, Stanford and us. In terms of public institutions, we’re the No. 1 APR in the county, which we’re very proud of. That doesn’t have a lot to do with me just yet, that has to do with a lot of people who were here before me.”
• Look for the Twins to make some big new improvements at Target Field in the offseason heading into 2018, according to Dave St. Peter.
• The Twins have had a lot of success with international signees Miguel Sano, Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco. There’s another young player in the minor league system who may follow that path in Jean Carlos Arias, who is hitting .278 as a 19-year-old with the Gulf Coast League Twins. Arias signed for $450,000 as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic. He has three home runs, five doubles and four triples, 25 RBI, 20 runs scored and eight stolen bases on the season.
• After all of the contracts given to such players as Everson Griffen, Xavier Rhodes, Harrison Smith and Linval Joseph, the Vikings are still $10 million under the salary cap.
• There never was any doubt about Apple Valley standout Tre Jones going to Duke. Mike Krzyzewski had him locked up a long time ago after several visits here. Jones rates 18th in the nation among players for the Class of 2018, according to ESPN. The next big challenge when it comes to recruiting for the Gophers will be Matthew Hurt, who is the eighth-ranked player in the Class of 2019 and has already been offered scholarships by the likes of Duke, Kansas and North Carolina. Will his brother Michael, already with the Gophers, be a help in recruiting? That’s a good question.
Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. Monday and Friday, 2 p.m. Friday and 10:30 a.m. Sunday. firstname.lastname@example.org