Roster spots still up in the air for Vikings

There are no meaningless games for the Minnesota Vikings’ players fighting for a spot on the 53-man roster and coach Leslie Frazier acknowledged that players can play their way on or off the final roster in Thursday’s preseason finale at the Houston Texans.

A young roster with a lot of turnover could see young players carving out roles. Minnesota will sit out the majority of its starters to get a good look at players on the roster bubble. The Vikings will have a short time to evaluate the players with the roster deadline a day later with 22 players needing to be cut.

“We’ll let some of those guys who are fighting for positions get the majority of the play time and see if they can show that they deserve to be a part of our final 53,” Frazier said. “This is a tense time for a lot of players as they’re trying to make our final roster, and for the coaches trying to get a good evaluation of our players in this final game.”

Where are some of the more interesting battles taking place? Here are five things to watch as the Vikings wrap up the 2012 preseason:
1. Can McLeod Bethel-Thompson push his way through the door?
Frazier said fourth-string quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson will play a majority of the game, possibly the entire second half. The strong-armed Bethel Thompson is an undrafted rookie, who is still very raw. Minnesota’s quarterbacks have seemingly been set since the beginning of training camp with Christian Ponder and Joe Webb taking the top two spots and veteran Sage Rosenfels the emergency third quarterback. Rosenfels has done what’s expected of him. Bethel-Thompson has an uphill climb for a roster spot. He has intrigued the coaches and they will give the younger project a chance to see if he deserves to stick instead of the veteran Rosenfels.
“The door’s not shut,” Frazier said. “We would like to see how he does. He’s done a good job in practices from the time we’ve had him back in the spring through the preseason. So, we’d like to see how he does again in a game situation.”
2. Who will win the third running back position behind Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart?
Peterson will sit out meaning his first game action will come in the regular season. The coaches know what they have in Gerhart, a steady fill-in and backup and won’t risk his health. The final roster spot among running backs comes down to Matt Asiata, Lex Hilliard and Jordan Todman. Hilliard, currently No. 3 on the depth chart is a versatile veteran, power runner. Todman is the speedy back, who will likely get his most extensive playing time of the preseason on Thursday because he is returning from an ankle sprain. Asiata is the darkhorse, who might just come away with the job. He entered camp as a fullback, but leads the team in rushing during the preseason.
Todman’s injury set him back. Asiata and Hilliard both fumbled last week. Thursday’s game will be important for each of them with each likely to get a good share of carries to see if any separation can be gained.
3. Who is still healthy enough to play in the secondary?
Of the players sitting out due to health reasons, four are in the secondary. Safeties Mistral Raymond and Andrew Sendejo will join cornerbacks Josh Robinson and Marcus Sherels on the sideline out of uniform. It’s likely that top corners Antoine Winfield and Chris Cook won’t play either, leaving a lot of playing time for players fighting for spots.
Cornerbacks Brandon Burton, Zack Bowman, Reggie Jones and Bobby Felder will get a chance to prove they deserve to stick on the final roster. Frazier has said rookie safety Robert Blanton will see his first game action and play most of the game as coaches get a look at him in a game situation after he’s recovered from a strained hamstring. Eric Frampton could also be battling to stay with the Vikings for another season. It’s doubtful rookie safety Harrison Smith or Jamarca Sanford would get much playing time, if any. There could be three to four roster spots open in the secondary that will come from players playing Thursday.
4. Will there be any clarification in the punt return job with two players sidelined?
The competition for the return jobs has come right down to the end. The Vikings are confident in top kick returner Percy Harvin, but they want a steady backup for the times they save Harvin for use on offense. The punt return job has offered little separation from as many as four players. Two of them will get a big chance Thursday.
Sherels, who the coaches feel is the most sure-handed returner, is dealing with a sprained ankle and won’t play. Robinson has been in the mix, but won’t play with a concussion. That leaves rookie Jarius Wright and Jones left to see who can solidify their roles. Frazier said he also wanted to see Wright and Jones in their regular roles as receiver and cornerback, respectively. So, the competition could be more than just who is the best return option. Wright did have a big return last week and coordinator Mike Priefer said he was one busted tackle from scoring.
5. Is Joe Webb ready for the regular season?
Ponder won’t play Thursday, and Frazier won’t expose Webb much stating that they “know where Joe is at this point.” Webb will start and get probably a quarter’s worth of action and needs to show improvement as a passer. His athleticism is always on display and he has a knack for making big plays with his feet. He needs to show more consistency and accuracy while drawing the starting nod for Thursday.
Webb has always done well in a relief role when defenses aren’t ready for his unique ability. He can show some progress by starting well. Minnesota is still looking to evaluate the wide receivers and some good quarterback play will be needed to get an accurate reading on the receivers.
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