Hours of work culminates in one final preseason game for more than one-third of the Vikings’ 90-man roster. On Thursday night, the Vikings and Dolphins end the exhibition schedule two days before more than 30 players lose their jobs this weekend. Here are five things to watch, including roster battles, at U.S. Bank Stadium:
Which receivers stick? The Vikings gain a roster spot because of receiver Michael Floyd’s suspension, potentially buying at least four games for one of the young talents. Now, will the Vikings again keep six receivers or size down to five? The locks likely won’t play Thursday night, and they’re Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Laquon Treadwell is also on the team but said he expected coaches to play him since a hamstring injury kept him from the first two preseason games. That leaves two to three spots between veteran Jarius Wright, rookies Stacy Coley and Rodney Adams, Isaac Fruechte, and others. Coley, the seventh-round pick from Miami, might already have earned a spot with his team-leading 160 receiving yards on nine catches this preseason.
Does Mitch get in? Former Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner could make his NFL preseason debut Thursday night if the Vikings starters sit as they’ve typically done in the exhibition finale. Quarterbacks Case Keenum, Taylor Heinicke and Leidner, who signed a week ago when Heinicke was limited by a rib injury, are expected to carry the load throughout this final preseason game. “It’s pretty crazy how far you can come in a week,” Leidner said. “Really starting to get the playbook down and figuring out what’s going on offensively and personnel as well. It’s been going good.”
How will ‘the process’ play out? The Vikings face difficult decisions on both lines for different reasons. Behind the top six offensive linemen, including centers Nick Easton and Pat Elflein, is a crop of raw players up for the final three or four spots. Tackle Rashod Hill, the leading swing candidate, should be penciled in as the seventh. Will guard T.J. Clemmings get another shot? Or has rookie Danny Isidora climbed above him on the depth chart? Reserves Willie Beavers, Jeremiah Sirles, Zac Kerin and Aviante Collins also have a chance at roster or practice squad spots with strong outings Thursday night. Mike Zimmer said he expects this game will be good for “the process” to play out at the starting weak-side linebacker spot. But that’s also true for the defensive line, where surging rookies Tashawn Bower, Jaleel Johnson and Ifeadi Odenigbo could push out veterans such as Datone Jones and Will Sutton for roster spots.
Kai Forbath’s turn? Kicker Marshall Koehn got the entire exhibition against the 49ers, converting four of five kicks, including a 58-yard field goal and three extra points. Koehn’s miss was wide right from 47 yards. Kai Forbath got plenty of work in practice Tuesday and could be up for a similar shot in the Vikings kicking competition. The Vikings also have a punter to pick. Ryan Quigley and Taylor Symmank swapped punts vs. the 49ers, and both seemed inconsistent.
Another local-to-pro story? Fullback C.J. Ham’s story already should be considered a success, but will he become the latest Minnesota product to make the Vikings active roster? The Duluth native has drawn praise from Zimmer this offseason and could help his cause with a strong outing. What does that mean for the tight end position? Kyle Carter has made a strong case for a roster spot this summer, and rookie Bucky Hodges has flashed some promise as a receiver. The Vikings have kept four tight ends in the past, but generally fewer when they’re carrying a fullback on the roster.