Following Thursday night’s 28-24 loss to the Houston Texans in the preseason finale, Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier said he wasn’t ready to make any immediate final decisions on the 53-man roster. Frazier wants to go back through the film of Thursday’s game, then sit down for what promises to be an exhaustive review of the personnel Friday with the rest of the coaches, General Manager Rick Spielman and the team’s scouts.
But we don’t need to wait. We opened training camp by giving you a small glimpse at how the 90-man roster would be reduced. Now, after five-and-a-half weeks of practice and four preseason games, it’s time to get down to business.
Here’s how our roster shapes up … (And yes, you will count 54 players we’re keeping because the Vikings will get to use Jerome Simpson’s roster spot for the first three games while he’s suspended)
Who we’re keeping: Christian Ponder, Joe Webb, McLeod Bethel-Thompson
Who we’re cutting: Sage Rosenfels
Worth discussing: Bethel-Thompson played the entire second half Thursday and completed 15 of 29 passes for 193 yards. He had a 59-yard touchdown strike to rookie Jarius Wright and also had an interception on a fourth quarter pass to tight end Allen Reisner. But that was simply a nice play by Texans safety Eddie Pleasant. It’s hard to say for sure what Bethel-Thompson’s NFL potential is. But he does have a rocket for an arm and some admirable moxie. And for a rebuilding team like the Vikings, it’s worth taking a few chances here and there. Rosenfels? He was 7-for-11 for 111 yards Thursday with a 58-yard TD pass to Devin Aromashodu. He's a favorite of GM Rick Spielman and can provide valuable input in the meeting rooms. But Rosenfels has also made all of 12 starts in his NFL career, the last one coming in 2008. The Vikings may insist that Rosenfels will be kept around because of his veteran intelligence and the mentoring he can provide Ponder and Webb behind the scenes. But Ponder and Webb also have plenty of guidance coming from quarterbacks coach Craig Johnson and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, a quarterback guru himself. And let’s face it, if the Vikings are forced to play a third quarterback at any point this season, things have gotten pretty bad. So why not give Bethel-Thompson a longer look?
Who we’re keeping: Adrian Peterson, Toby Gerhart, Jordan Todman, Jerome Felton
Who we’re cutting: Matt Asiata, Lex Hilliard, Ryan D’Imperio
Worth discussing: Look, we know it would be crazy to get too excited over the 114-yard outburst Todman had Thursday night against a flock of Texans reserves. But what Todman did show is that he has incredible burst and intriguing upside. His 76-yard TD run may very well have earned him a roster spot, proof that under pressure he can deliver.
“Some of his teammates were talking about just that after that long run,” head coach Leslie Frazier said. “They go, ‘Man, Coach, that running back position just got a lot more competitive.’ And they’re right. To see Jordan step up the way he did, that was one of the things we were hoping to see.”
But the Vikings will also have to consider the sprained ankle that kept Todman out through much of training camp and limited him to just two carries in the preseason before Thursday.
Said Frazier: “You have to factor that in. You want guys to stay healthy. That’s part of playing in this league: availability. But sometimes injuries are completely out of your control. So we have to evaluate him on his body of work. And his body of work is limited compared to some of the other backs. But we have to sit down and discuss where he is and how much he can help our team going forward.”
Who we’re keeping: Percy Harvin, Jerome Simpson, Michael Jenkins, Jarius Wright, Devin Aromashodu, Stephen Burton
Who we’re cutting: Manny Arceneaux
Worth discussing: There’s plenty of worry about what the Vikings will do to stretch the field vertically in the passing game during Weeks 1-3 when Simpson is serving his three-game suspension. But don’t forget, Harvin hauled in a bomb from Ponder a week ago and dropped what would have been another home run catch on a post route. Then, against Houston, Wright and Aromashodu each delivered long TD catches. Wright feels he has the versatility to be used both inside and outside and he looked good against Houston. Aromashodu also stepped up, providing at least some comfort that a waiver wire scavenger hunt for added receiver help might not be needed this weekend.
“[Devin’s] length makes a difference,” Frazier said. “And he’s a guy who can really run. He’s a long strider so sometimes it’s a little tougher getting in and out of breaks for him. But he’s shown that he can make plays down the field. And that’s what we wanted to be able to see tonight. We wanted to see that throughout this preseason. And it’s good that it showed up tonight. We thought it was there. We saw it some in OTAs, we saw it some in our practice in Mankato. It was good to see it in a game situation.”
The final receiver spot will be between Burton and Arceneaux, a coin flip really. Burton was targeted eight times Thursday night and had just three catches for 47 yards. Arceneaux was targeted seven times and finished with two grabs for 28 yards.
Who we’re keeping: Kyle Rudolph, John Carlson, Rhett Ellison, Allen Reisner
Who we’re cutting: Mickey Shuler
Worth discussing: The Vikings could be tempted to keep only three tight ends, which would leave Reisner out of the mix. But given Carlson’s recent injury struggles – the sprained knee that kept him out of most of training camp, the shoulder injury that cost him the entire 2011 season – keeping depth at the position will be a priority. Ellison’s ability to play a fullback role is beneficial. And he’s been solid catching passes throughout the preseason.
Who we’re keeping: Matt Kalil, John Sullivan, Phil Loadholt, Charlie Johnson, Brandon Fusco, Geoff Schwartz, Joe Berger, Pat Brown, DeMarcus Love
Who we’re cutting: Quentin Saulsberry, Chris DeGeare, Kevin Murphy, Austin Pasztor, Tyler Holmes
Worth discussing: Depth at the tackle positions is a bit of a problem right now. That was in full evidence Thursday night with Love aggravating a shoulder injury that has bothered him throughout the preseason and Brown struggling with penalty problems. Schwartz’s quick recovery from sports hernia surgery has been encouraging. And Berger remains a reliable reserve with the versatility to play both guard and center in case of an emergency. In the big picture, keeping that starting unit intact is going to be a huge piece of the puzzle this season. Also, don’t be surprised if Saulsberry, an undrafted rookie from Mississippi State, is the 10th offensive lineman in the locker room next week as a member of the practice squad. Retaining only nine linemen on the 53-man roster will give the Vikings some flexibility to add depth elsewhere. And by elsewhere we mean in the defensive backfield.
Who we’re keeping: Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, Brian Robison, Letroy Guion, Fred Evans, Everson Griffen, Christian Ballard, D’Aundre Reed
Who we’re cutting: Nick Reed, Trevor Guyton, Jeff Charleston, Chase Baker
Worth discussing: We’re not banking on many roster surprises here. The defensive line’s success in 2012 will hinge on whether Guion emerges as the type of difference-making nose tackle that the Vikings believe he can be. The line’s success beyond 2012 will hinge on the continued development of Reed and Ballard. Guyton could be a prime candidate for the practice squad, a seventh-round pick who needs a lot of work.
Who we’re keeping: Chad Greenway, Erin Henderson, Jasper Brinkley, Marvin Mitchell, Tyrone McKenzie, Audie Cole
Who we’re cutting: Larry Dean, Corey Paredes
Worth discussing: In extensive action Thursday in Houston, neither Dean nor McKenzie did much to help their cause, unable to make plays against the run. Some of that, Frazier acknowledged, was a result of the Vikings’ poor play up front. Dean has special teams value. But given the uncertainty at middle linebacker, McKenzie seems like a better insurance policy there. Cole has shown enough throughout the preseason to keep around. He’s working his butt of to develop and the Vikings love his knack for making big plays. The lack of depth here is a major concern. And if the waiver wire presents a few options worth considering, both McKenzie and Dean could be the odd men out by weekend’s end.
Who we’re keeping: Chris Cook, Antoine Winfield, Chris Carr, Josh Robinson, Zack Bowman, Brandon Burton
Who we’re cutting: Marcus Sherels, Reggie Jones, Bobby Felder
Worth discussing: The ongoing experiment with Wright as a punt returner is going well enough that Sherels’ time may be up. Sherels missed the preseason finale with a sprained ankle. Wright had three punt returns for 18 yards plus two fair catches in his place. If Sherels’ return ability is considered valuable – remember, he’s also comfortable on kickoffs – Burton could get cut. Felder has promise and is another guy the Vikings may try to slip onto their practice squad.
Who we’re keeping: Harrison Smith, Jamarca Sanford, Mistral Raymond, Robert Blanton, Eric Frampton
Who we’re cutting: Andrew Sendejo
Worth discussing: It’s hard to say who suffered from worse timing – Sendejo, who suffered a severe ankle sprain last week in a preseason loss to San Diego and is probably a long way away from being healthy again; or Frampton, who saw extensive action against the Texans and was victimized on a handful of big plays early. Frampton’s value has always been more on special teams than on defense. But is that enough to justify keeping him around? Blanton played for the first time against Houston on Thursday night and was predictably ordinary. No big plays. No obvious gaffes. “You could tell he was a little rusty early on,” Frazier said. “There were a few things that he wasn’t quite on with. But overall, the fact he played the entire game, he really held up fair well. As the game went on, he got better.”
Who we’re keeping: Chris Kluwe, Blair Walsh, Cullen Loeffler
Who we’re cutting: Nobody
Worth discussing: Walsh missed field goals in each of the last three preseason games, all of them from longer than 40 yards. Regular misses won’t be tolerated as easily in the regular season. But Walsh has been superb on kickoffs for the most part and finished the preseason with 34 points, second only to Seattle kicker Steven Hauschka (35). Kluwe averaged 45.3 yards on 19 preseason punts.