The continued transition on defense for new coach Mike Zimmer was evident as the Minnesota Vikings reached the 53-man roster limit on Saturday afternoon.
Defensive tackle Fred Evans, who has been with Minnesota since 2007, was released along with 18 other players to get to the regular-season roster limit. The Vikings likely will look to continue to tweak the bottom of the roster over the coming days before the Sept. 7 opener at St. Louis.
Safeties Chris Crocker — who was signed during training camp — and Kurt Coleman, another offseason addition, were released as the safety position was unsettled as the preseason came to a close on Thursday.
Minnesota also released guard Jeff Baca, defensive tackle Chase Baker, running back Joe Banyard, receiver Kain Colter, defensive tackle Isame Faciane, tight end Chase Ford, receiver Donte Foster, linebacker Justin Jackson, cornerback Kendall James, center Zac Kerin, cornerback Julian Posey, tight end Allen Reisner, offensive tackle Mike Remmers, defensive end Justin Trattou, running back Dominique Williams and linebacker Mike Zimmer.
Some of the players could be brought back when the Vikings’ announce their 10-man practice squad. All players eligible for the practice squad would have to clear waivers.
Minnesota also placed offensive tackle Antonio Richardson and safety Jamarca Sanford on injured reserve.
Evans has played 94 games, mostly as a backup nose tackle, for the Vikings over the past seven seasons. His release leaves only starting ends Brian Robison, Everson Griffen and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd as holdovers from last year’s team.
Minnesota released Letroy Guion in the offseason and didn’t re-sign Jared Allen or Kevin Williams, three starters from last season. Floyd is stepping into Williams’ spot inside and the team signed Linval Joseph to play nose tackle, while Griffen is taking Allen’s spot on the right end after signing a new contract with the team.
Crocker had played the past seven seasons under Zimmer in Atlanta and Cincinnati. The 34-year-old had signed out of semi-retirement during training camp as Zimmer looked for an answer at safety alongside Harrison Smith. Robert Blanton, who will likely be the starter, Sanford and Andrew Sendejo had all dealt with injuries.
Crocker received time with the first-team defense, as had Coleman. But Crocker’s presence seemed to be as much of a learning tool for the younger players on the roster.
"I’ve known him for quite a while, so I’m comfortable with Chris as far as being able to do what we’re asking him to do," Zimmer said on Tuesday. "Part of it was, it was good for the other guys around to listen to him to see how he studies, and he studied better for this game than he did in the first ballgame. He was really the only guy that I’ve had that came here. Those guys can say, ‘Hey he’s just in a bad mood today or whatever.’ He can kind of smooth things over that way."
Coleman, 26, had signed in the offseason to compete after starting 29 games the past three seasons for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Blanton had worked with the first-team defense before his injury. Sendejo started 10 games last season and is also a core special teams player. Rookie safety Antone Exum, a sixth-round draft pick, also stays.
James, a sixth-round draft pick, was the only 2014 draftee to not make Minnesota’s roster. Seventh-rounders Shamar Stephen (a defensive tackle), Brandon Watts (a linebacker) and Jabari Price (a cornerback) are on the current roster.
By releasing Ford and Reisner, the Vikings’ currently only have two tight ends, Kyle Rudolph and Rhett Ellison. Minnesota has two fullbacks on the current roster in Jerome Felton and Zach Line.
The Vikings also kept eight linebackers as Audie Cole, Larry Dean, Gerald Hodges, Michael Mauti and Watts are on the current roster behind expected starters Chad Greenway, Jasper Brinkley and Anthony Barr.
Minnesota kept five receivers on the active roster in Cordarrelle Patterson, Greg Jennings, Jarius Wright, Rodney Smith and Adam Thielen, with Jerome Simpson suspended for the season’s first three games and not counting toward a roster spot.