Former Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner could likely play in his first NFL game on Thursday night. That is, should Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer not follow through on his warning.
Displeased with the starters’ play Sunday night vs. San Francisco, when the Vikings trailed 14-0 at halftime, Zimmer said this week he’s considering bucking the standard NFL approach and playing his starters again.
That would be something. Not only because of the injury risk 10 days before the regular season opener, but also how Zimmer has touted this final exhibition as a good way of seeing 15 players he — in a previous season — would’ve needed to cut by now. The NFL did away with the first cut deadline, so all 37 cuts by each team will be made by Saturday afternoon after the fourth preseason game.
One of those cuts will surely be Leidner, the former Gophers quarterback who signed with the Vikings last week because third-string quarterback Taylor Heinicke was limited by an injured rib.
Should the Vikings sit starter Sam Bradford, that leaves quarterbacks Case Keenum, Heinicke and Leidner for the Vikings to get through Thursday’s game vs. the Dolphins. Zimmer said Tuesday afternoon he had not yet told players his plans.
“I really have no idea,” Leidner said Tuesday. “I haven’t heard anything. Just focused on coming out here and getting better every day.”
The 23-year-old Leidner hadn’t seen football played inside U.S. Bank Stadium until he warmed up on the field before the 49ers exhibition.
Now he says he’s ready to take his first NFL preseason snaps, if needed.
“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 the personnel as well. It’s been going good.”
Should Leidner play, the Vikings won’t be the only ones watching. The other 31 teams will also be looking for any standout performances around the league as they prepare to put in waiver claims on cut players this weekend. For Leidner, who was working as a food delivery driver at Bite Squad before signing, it could be a big opportunity.
“It’s been great. It’s everything you can ask for when you’re in that situation, just hoping to get that phone call and that opportunity,” Leidner said. “I’ve been really fortunate and very thankful to the Vikings for giving me this opportunity. I’ve really enjoyed the first week.”