As the Vikings began preparations Monday for their final preseason game, they took something of a novel approach with the players who wouldn’t suit up for the game anyway: Most of their starters, as well as young players such as wide receivers Chad Beebe and Bisi Johnson, took part in a closed morning practice, before many of the team’s reserves prepared for Thursday’s game at Buffalo with an afternoon practice in driving rain.
“I want to work them real hard with the things that we need to work on, and then give them some time off to recuperate mentally before we start getting into the grind of the season,” coach Mike Zimmer said Monday.
It remains to be seen how much the Vikings’ practice plan for the Bills is an indicator of who’s already made the roster, but as the team heads into its final practice of the preseason Tuesday, it’s time to take an educated guess at how the Vikings’ final 53-man roster will look, as well as the position battles to watch on Thursday night.
On Tuesday morning, the team released two veterans, cornerback Bene’ Benwikere and receiver Jordan Taylor.
One thing to note on the projections: We’re comprising the 53-man roster solely of players on the Vikings’ 90-man Monday roster, though it’s entirely possible the team will make a move to add a player from another team after Saturday’s cutdown deadline. That said, let’s have at it:
In: Kirk Cousins, Sean Mannion, Kyle Sloter
Practice squad: Jake Browning
Battle to watch: Sloter and Browning should get plenty of time Thursday, as Sloter hopes another impressive game could offset some of Zimmer’s pointed critique about his practice inconsistencies. The Vikings guaranteed Browning $140,000 this spring, so they could continue to keep him on the practice squad.
Running back (5)
In: Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, Ameer Abdullah, Mike Boone, C.J. Ham
Practice squad: Khari Blasingame
Out: DeAngelo Henderson
Battle to watch: Ham has played in the Vikings’ third-down packages, and it’s hard to imagine him not being the fullback, but Blasingame’s strong preseason has helped him make a bid for the roster. He’s a versatile player the Vikings likely will want to retain with Ham headed for restricted free agency next year.
Wide receiver (5)
In: Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Beebe, Johnson, Brandon Zylstra
Practice squad: Jeff Badet, Dillon Mitchell
Out: Laquon Treadwell, Jordan Taylor, Alexander Hollins, Davion Davis
Battle to watch: It’s for the fifth receiver spot, where Zylstra will try and do enough to cement his place on the roster. Treadwell, the Vikings’ 2016 first-round pick, might be headed for a new team even if he turns in a big game.
Tight end (3)
In: Kyle Rudolph, Irv Smith, Tyler Conklin
Practice squad: Cole Hikutini
Out: Brandon Dillon
PUP list: David Morgan
Battle to watch: Dillon and Hikutini have both had impressive moments in camp and will be trying to do enough to make the Vikings think they can’t risk exposing them to waivers.
Offensive line (9)
In: Riley Reiff, Pat Elflein, Garrett Bradbury, Josh Kline, Brian O’Neill, Rashod Hill, Dakota Dozier, Dru Samia, Aviante Collins
Practice squad: Oli Udoh, Cornelius Edison
Out: Brett Jones, Danny Isidora, John Keenoy, Nate Wozniak
Battle to watch: Jones or Isidora could try to stick on the roster, especially if the Vikings are worried about Collins’ readiness for the regular season. If either is back for another year, one of them would also have to beat out Samia, the team’s fourth-round pick.
Defensive line (10)
In: Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph, Shamar Stephen, Danielle Hunter, Stephen Weatherly, Jaleel Johnson, Jalyn Holmes, Ifeadi Odenigbo, Hercules Mata’afa, Armon Watts
Out: Stacy Keely, Karter Schult, Tito Odenigbo, Curtis Cothran, Anree Saint-Amour, Ade Aruna
NFI list: Tashawn Bower
Battle to watch: Of the group of 10, Watts might be the closest to the bubble, but he split a sack with Ifeadi Odenigbo in a preseason game and could solidify a roster spot Thursday.
In: Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Ben Gedeon, Eric Wilson, Kentrell Brothers, Cameron Smith
Practice squad: Devante Downs
Out: Reshard Cliett, Greer Martini
Battle to watch: Zimmer has lauded this group’s depth, and the battle for the final spot could be especially between Smith, Downs and Cliett, with special teams playing a big role in the outcome.
Defensive back (9)
In: Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Harrison Smith, Anthony Harris, Mackensie Alexander, Mike Hughes, Jayron Kearse, Marcus Epps, Duke Thomas
Practice squad: Kris Boyd
Out: Bene’ Benwikere, Derron Smith, Isaiah Wharton, Craig James, Nate Meadors
Suspended: Holton Hill
Battle to watch: Players such as Epps, Boyd and Thomas will be trying to show they’re better options than what the Vikings might find from another team after roster cuts.
In: Dan Bailey, Kaare Vedvik, Austin Cutting
Out: Matt Wile
Battle to watch: This has been the one to see all summer, and as Vedvik continues to struggle as a kicker, his best bet might be to beat out Wile as the punter.
Ben Goessling covers the Vikings for the Star Tribune.