With only the preseason finale standing between the Vikings and final roster cuts, head coach Mike Zimmer and his staff must make their final evaluation of a bunch of bubble boys Thursday night.
So what is he hoping to see from the Vikings players who are battling for jobs against the Titans?
“Instead of trying to play cautious, they play aggressive,” Zimmer said of the fringe players who typically stand out. “They’re going to fight for what they want to achieve. I think that part of it. I’ve seen a lot of guys come in there and they kind of spit the bit. They don’t really want to run that day. They’re more about not getting beat as opposed to beating the guy that they’re up against.”
Of course, some players who are still in limbo won’t get another chance to make an impression on Zimmer due to injuries. Outside linebackers Mike Mauti (foot) and Brandon Watts (leg), safety Jamarca Sanford (quad) and cornerback Jabari Price (arm/shoulder) will not play against the Titans.
Nor will nose tackle Linval Joseph (calf), right tackle Phil Loadholt (ankle) and outside linebacker Anthony Barr (sprained ankle), but those guys don’t have to worry about keeping their roster spots.
Wide receiver Rodney Smith (neck) and outside linebacker Gerald Hodges (knee) are also expected to sit out, though the fact that Hodges practiced today gives him hope that he might be able to go.
As for the quarterback plan, Zimmer was vague with us because he hadn’t yet told some players his plan for playing time. He left wiggle room that Matt Cassel could play, but said there is a “good chance” that Teddy Bridgewater will start before eventually giving way to Christian Ponder.
“If he does start the game, it’s good for us to see how he takes the beginning of the game,” Zimmer said of the rookie quarterback, who did not start any of the team’s first three preseason games.
One other comment piqued my interest in Zimmer’s powwow with reporters. When asked about cornerback Shaun Prater, he said he could see the Vikings shifting him to safety “down the road.”
“Prater, obviously he was with me before [in Cincinnati], but he’s a tough, feisty kid that can do a lot of jobs,” Zimmer said. “He can play nickel. He can play corner. I’m not too sure we shouldn’t look at him some at safety, just because of his temperament and he’s doing things a lot better now.”
With that praise for Prater, it sure seems like we can pencil him onto the team’s 53-man roster.
Vikings defensive tackle Linval Joseph spoke to the media for the first time on Tuesday since he was shot in his calf on Aug. 9. He hasn’t participated in practice since the injury, but Joseph expects to be ready for Week 1 against the Rams.
Joseph said he’s been conditioning indoors over the past week, but Joseph increased his workload on Monday while running outside for the first time.
“My concern right now from the jump was just to do what I love, which is to play football,” Joseph said. “I just thank God that it was just a clean wound, straight in and straight out, and it’s behind me now. I’m glad I’m healthy and can help this team.”
Joseph, in his first year with the Vikings after four seasons with the Giants, was among nine people shot at a downtown Minneapolis club the same night the Vikings defeated the Raiders, 10-6, in their preseason opener at TCF Bank Stadium.
“For all the victims who were involved and seriously hurt, I wish them a speedy recovery as well,” Joseph said. “You never wish for anything like that to happen to anybody.”
The 25-year-old would not go into details about the night of the shooting but described it as a “scary” moment that has changed his perspective on life.
“It’s just a flash and just makes you think about everything you’ve done in your life,” Joseph said. “I’m 25 years old and feel like I have a lot left to accomplish with my job and just my life. I’m just glad I have the opportunity to do that.”
Every week, we’ll take four questions from Twitter for our weekly mailbag using the #VikingsST hashtag.
After seeing the offense and defense in progressive what is legit chances of ten wins? What do you see our record #VikingsST
— zach sween (@1Sween) August 25, 2014
The Vikings will be an improved team, but I don’t think that will result in 10 wins. Yes, unlike other sports leagues, there’s always a team that jumps from worst to first in the NFL. I just don’t think it’ll be this team.
The Vikings have shown some good signs in the preseason, especially on offense. The defense is the biggest concern and will decide if the Vikings are that surprise team, or just another average team. It’s easy to get your hopes up with the team 3-0. Thoughts of a playoff berth and 10 wins creep in, but it’s the preseason. The record doesn’t mean a thing and it could play out dramatically different at the start of the regular season.
I had the Vikings at 7-9 before the season. With Rams quarterback Sam Bradford out for the season, I bumped it to 8-8. It still projects as a third place finish, ahead of the Lions, in my opinion.
@MasterStrib what can be attributed to “Sheriff” Floyd’s great preseason performance thus far? #VikingsST
— Anthony Skubic (@Skubzy) August 25, 2014
Not every first rounder makes an immediate impact as a rookie and there’s seems to be a lofty expectation every year on all first round picks to do just that. If a player fails to exceed that, he’s immediately a bust apparently.
Vikings defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd lost weight in the offseason, removing red meat and pork from his diet, but he’s continued to develop all-around as a defensive tackle. Floyd’s getting more opportunities now as the starting three-technique tackle rather than serving as a backup last year. He played very well the last two games, specifically his pass rushing ability, and we’ll see if he can carry that play into the regular season. Remember, it’s his second season. There will still be some growing pains Floyd will experience throughout the season, especially in a new scheme. He’ll need to show progress, however, similar to how he’s performed in the preseason.
@MasterStrib: Where does Jerrick McKinnon fit into offense, and do you expect he or Matt Asiata to be named #2 RB behind AP? #VikingsST
— Josh Betts (@BettsSportsBeat) August 25, 2014
Matt Asiata has been very impressive during preseason, including as an option in pass situations out the backfield. McKinnon can be a third down back and used at times in the pass offense in two-back formation, but Asiata is Adrian Peterson’s backup.
It’ll be interesting to watch when offensive coordinator Norv Turner uses McKinnon to start the season. He brings a change-of-pace to big backs like Peterson and Asiata, but how often will Turner want that? Although he does provide the flexibility, it doesn’t appear that McKinnon will get too many snaps early in the year.
@MasterStrib does Josh Robinson get cut? #VikingsST
— Chris Duncanson (@SpyderFenix) August 25, 2014
Head coach Mike Zimmer might’ve reference the cornerback as “the other guy” last week, but cut him?
Yes, he’ll make the team.
The Twins’ offensive surge in August has placed them into elite territory. They are now No. 6 in the majors — not the AL, not among bad teams, but out of all 30 teams — in runs scored with 570. They are scoring nearly 4.4 per game, which in many cases should be enough to be a pretty decent team. They’ve scored them in binges and droughts, but it adds up to an impressive number.
We’re as stunned as you are. They’re also No. 7 in MLB in on-base percentage and tied for seventh in MLB in extra-base hits.
These numbers suggest an offensive improvement that, while perhaps not sustainable (are Danny Santana and Kennys Vargas really going to keep up their torrid paces?), does at least provide promise for the future.
But just as much, they add a layer of frustration to a season in which pitching was supposed to be much-improved and the offense was going to be the major question mark. Remember, the big offseason bats added from outside the organization were Kurt Suzuki, Jason Kubel and Jason Bartlett. Suzuki has worked out wonderfully. The other two failed spectacularly. And the bulk of offseason spending went into the rotation, with Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes plus the re-signing of Mike Pelfrey.
Hughes has been wonderful. Nolasco and Pelfrey have been dreadful. Add it up, and Twins’ starters have a 5.05 ERA — 28th in the majors, in line with where they have lagged ever since their great decline started in 2011. Their bullpen ERA of 3.47 is 15th in MLB — perfectly acceptable in the middle of the road.
So if you’re looking for a major pleasant surprise this season, look at an offense we expected to be terrible that is somehow near the top of baseball in the most important category. And if you’re looking for the culprit in another lost season, look no further (again) than starting pitching.