One Vikings rookie might have locked up a roster spot ahead of Thursday’s preseason finale in Buffalo.
Receiver Olabisi Johnson practiced with prominent Vikings players this week during separate morning sessions, designed by head coach Mike Zimmer to rest veterans in the afternoons, when the rest of the team has practiced.
Johnson, a seventh-round pick (247th overall) out of Colorado State, has caught five of six targets for 87 yards and a touchdown this preseason, perhaps earning him a spot in the receiver race behind Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs and Chad Beebe. Johnson’s 36-yard kickoff return against the Cardinals showed he could also be an asset on special teams, having returned both kicks and punts this preseason.
“He is a smarter player, so we’re asking a lot of him,” offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski said. “When it came time in that New Orleans game, or the last ballgame in the second half, there were opportunities to make plays on the ball and make plays after the catch. He made those plays, so it’s not something we have to project. We’ve seen him do it.”
Since only four receivers practiced with the starters this week, the fifth spot is unclear with Brandon Zylstra, Jeff Badet and Laquon Treadwell in the mix.
“It’s definitely a big confidence boost,” Johnson said. “Especially being a rookie and everything, it’s something I needed, but the work doesn’t stop — I got to keep going.”
‘Got to have more patience’
The Vikings’ kicking competition took another turn Tuesday as Kaare Vedvik made just five of eight field-goal attempts during practice, with four apiece indoors and outdoors amid strong wind gusts. Vedvik missed two of four tries outside, including a 33-yard attempt, and pushed a 51-yard attempt wide right when lightning forced practice to move indoors.
Entering the final evaluations during Thursday night’s preseason finale in Buffalo, the Vikings plan to play all three specialists, including Vedvik, kicker Dan Bailey and punter Matt Wile. They could rotate kicker and punter against the Bills depending on workload, according to special teams coordinator Marwan Maalouf. Coach Mike Zimmer added he’s learned a valuable lesson when dealing with struggling kickers in the preseason.
“I guess the biggest thing is I got to have more patience, probably,” Zimmer said.
Two veterans released
The Vikings’ roster purge started early this week as receiver Jordan Taylor and cornerback Bene’ Benwikere were released Tuesday. The roster sits at 88 players and needs to be trimmed to 53 by 3 p.m. Saturday.
Taylor, 27, signed a one-year deal in April but could not parlay that into a roster spot despite open competition. The former Broncos receiver had three catches for 24 yards in limited preseason action.
Benwikere, 27, was an Aug. 3 addition as the Vikings sought depth at cornerback. They’re still looking for help, even as Mike Hughes (knee) was activated off the Physically Unable to Perform list this week.
On the mend
Right tackle Brian O’Neill (elbow) continues to be limited in practice, ceding first-team reps to backup tackle Rashod Hill during Tuesday’s practice. O’Neill has been sidelined for three weeks since injuring his elbow during an Aug. 5 practice. It’s unclear if he’ll be ready for the Sept. 8 opener against the Falcons.
The same goes for Hughes, who was activated off PUP but continues to rehab his surgically repaired left knee on a separate field during practice. Tackle Aviante Collins (leg) also has not practiced since he was carted off the practice field Aug. 1.
Badet (undisclosed injury) returned to practice. Safety Derron Smith left with an apparent injury.