Thursday, August 28, 2014

Five Things to Watch for against the Titans

The Vikings will conclude the preseason with a matchup against the Tennessee Titans tonight. The roster battles will become more intense and the fringe players will be taking part in the their final job interview. Find out five things to watch for in tonight's game. 

Updated: August 28th, 2014 10:45am

By: Daniel House

The Vikings will close their preseason campaign tonight in a matchup with the Tennessee Titans. For many players, this will be their last chance to prove they are worthy of a roster spot. Essentially, this is the final job interview for 23 of the men who will be playing on the field in tonight's game. The fourth preseason game is a time for these fringe players to see a majority of the reps, while the starters prepare for the regular season, by sitting out the final exhibition contest. The coaching staff will have some very difficult decisions to make in tonight's game, but will any players make roster cuts even more challenging?

The final audition 

Tonight is the final night that fringe roster players can show their talents in a game, before the NFL rosters are trimmed on Saturday. The Vikings will be without tackle Phil Loadholt, linebacker Anthony Barr, linebacker Michael Mauti, linebacker Brandon Watts, wide receiver Rodney Smith and safety Jamarca Sanford. With three linebackers being out for tonight's game, the doors open for players like veteran Larry Dean, recent waiver claim Justin Jackson, and Mike Zimmer to see extended reps. These players will be mixed in many different combinations, as the coaching staff decides which players can make the most contribution to the roster in 2014.

MLB position battle winds down

This will also be the last chance for the coaching staff to decide who will start at middle linebacker when the team opens the regular season in St. Louis next week. Jasper Brinkley is the veteran in the group, but the team has been using Audie Cole during some of the preseason games. Both are expected to see some snaps tonight, as the competition comes to a close. Don't expect frequent playing time for either player, but they should see some reps in nickel and base defense to test their coverage range. Brinkley appears to be leading the competition and his ability to play well as a run defender in the base defense certainly helps his cause.

Who will win the safety spot?

The coaching staff has been continually shuffling players throughout the strong safety position and the team will have one more preseason game to decide which player is the best fit. Chris Crocker is the veteran and has started the last two preseason games, but he was supplanted by Kurt Coleman, Robert Blanton, and Andrew Sendejo. It appears Jamarca Sanford could have been eliminated from the race, especially considering he will miss more time with injuries. Mike Zimmer doesn't like players who can't stay healthy and he will look for the player that can provide the most stability alongside Harrison Smith. The Vikings may implement some three safety looks, which means finding the right fit at this position will be even more critical.

Chase Ford returns, the TE battle heats up 

Chase Ford will be returning tonight, following a foot injury that caused him to miss all of training camp and the preseason to this point. The next ten days will be very critical for Ford and he will need to show the emergence he made at the end of last season wasn't a mirage. Allen Reisner has hauled in three touchdowns in the preseason and has become the red zone liaison for Teddy Bridgewater. Ford will need to prove he can handle the rigors of the final preseason game and has the pressure to play well. Ford is a good complement to Kyle Rudolph in the passing game and his athletic skill-set could be enough for him to win the job.

The swing tackle spot is undecided 

Austin Wentworth and Antonio Richardson were both undrafted rookies and will be competing for the final swing tackle spot on the Vikings offensive line. Wentworth entered the game during Phil Loadholt's injury and was destroyed for a strip sack safety of Matt Cassel. He hasn't played right tackle and has been used at left tackle during camp. That is an adjustment to make and irregardless, the coaching staff has liked what they have witnessed from Wentworth early in camp. Antonio Richardson has been running with the third-team offense lately and after a solid training camp, it appears, he may be hitting a bit of a plateau. Ultimately, this position could be trimmed with the thought of having one (or both) of these players placed on the practice squad. That would mean the Vikings could keep one less active offensive lineman on the 53-man roster, opening the door to keep an additional defensive player. The decision is far from made at this position and one last impression could be enough to influence the coaching staff's decision.

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