Daniel House highlights five positional battles that could influence the formation of the 53-man roster, as he prepares you for Vikings vs. Titans tonight.
Tonight the fourth preseason game means we won't see any of the starters, as they prepare for the regular season opener vs. Detroit on September 8th. The real meaning of this game revolves around roster battles as final cuts must be finished by Saturday afternoon. As we discussed yesterday with former personnel director Ty Knott, there are 3 or 4 roster battles that will be taking place tonight, many of the other players will be showcasing their talents for other teams.
So which areas will I be watching closely tonight?
-It all starts at the final coveted wide receiver spot, where three players are battling for one roster spot. Joe Webb has been widely discussed with his athleticism, but he has went slightly "under-the-radar" during the preseason. He emerged in the third preseason game by catching a touchdown on a fade from Christian Ponder, but has he done enough to solidify a roster spot? I'm not sure and I believe his performance tonight could dictate his roster status.
Wide receiver Stephen Burton had a great training camp and early preseason, but struggled in the third preseason game vs. San Francisco. He made several mental mistakes, which could plague him when the coaches decide the best path.
Finally, Florida State product Rodney Smith is a sleeper that has went relatively quiet during the early season activities. He made a ton of drops in training camp, but has developed nicely according to the Vikings coaching staff. Could he slide onto this team as one of the bigger developmental pieces?
-Who will emerge as the final backup among the Vikings offensive line? It mainly comes down to the tackle position for players like Brandon Keith and Kevin Murphy. I have never personally been impressed with Murphy and Keith hasn't shown me anything special. I think pending their performance in tonight's game, this is an area the Vikings will sift through when the NFL cuts rosters. The team needs security in the event of an injury and right now I don't see a suitable player on the roster that could fill this role.
-The Vikings will have a decision to make at the middle linebacker position when roster cuts occur. The organization took a risk on linebacker Michael Mauti, who has battled injuries and has a ton of potential. In 2012, the team spent a draft pick on Audie Cole, as they looked for security among an unstable position group. Cole dazzled in the preseason last year, but hasn't stood out during the exhibition games this season. Mauti is a developmental project and the team could try to slide him onto the practice squad, but he would have to clear waivers first. The personnel directors may decide to keep them both, but it wouldn't surprise me if Cole wins the job and Mauti is bravely attempted to be placed on the practice squad. I have a tough time with the team parting ways with Mauti thought because he is impressed me with his tangibles during training camp. He has potential and could mold into an elite linebacker with more time in the league.
-One of the final areas the Vikings will need to decide is at outside linebacker. The team spent a 4th round pick on rookie Gerald Hodges, but he has went extremely non-descript during the preseason. Tyrone McKenzie led the team in tackles on special teams and has value from this standpoint. Teams don't cut 4th-round draft picks unless they feel they have absolutely zero chance to develop. Hodges seems like a lock to make the 53-man roster, but if the Vikings feel any doubt, he could be one of the surprise cuts. McKenzie has done well on special teams in the past, but has struggled at times during this preseason stanza. With that, the team needs to decide whether they want a proven veteran special teamer, or a developmental young player.
-Finally, one of the most talked about position battles comes down to cornerbacks Marcus Sherels and Bobby Felder. Both have talent returning punts, but the real sliver lining is how they play in coverage. Felder is arguably better than Sherels in this aspect, but the special teams coach Mike Priefer like Sherels reliability, while Coach Frazier prefers Bobby Felder's development. Tonight could influence which player finds the 53, especially if one player looks better in coverage, but right now the door is open for both players heading into tonight's game.