The Minnesota Vikings host the Houston Texans in the fourth and final game of the 2011 preseason. Of course that is a slight misnomer as many of the players who take the field on Thursday night at the Metrodome won’t be Vikings or Texans at the beginning of the regular season.
Yes, most of the teams’ starters will be resting and many of the players on the field won’t wind up on a practice squad nor even be heard of again in the NFL. Therefore, it is probably difficult for most football fans to get fired up for the game. But in the case of the Vikings fans, there is still plenty to make it worth watching. Roster spots and starting positions are still up for grabs, according to the Viking coaches, and with jobs on the line, the action should up-tempo.
“We’ve got a lot of competition in a lot of different spots,” said special teams coach Mike Priefer. “And some of the teams I’ve been with in the past, the [53-man roster] is pretty set by the fourth preseason game. I don’t think it is here. The competition for those spots is really going to come down to mainly the play on special teams for a lot of those guys.”
Players such as CB Cord Parks and WR Stephon Burton getting a shot returning kicks in the absence of injured RB Lorenzo Booker or the resting Percy Harvin. The wide receiver battle could be won or lost in how the players perform on special teams Thursday.
Also affecting the decisions on rosters spots and starting positions are injuries. News of the day at Winter Park was the hip surgery that Jasper Brinkley, backup middle linebacker and a standout special teams player, underwent. More information is forthcoming on the surgery but early reports had it being similar to the surgery that former Vikings WR Sidney Rice had last season, and it could cost Brinkley much of this season.
That news, along with the fact that other linebackers (Heath Farwell, Kenny Onatolu and rookie Ross Homan) have been hobbling much of the preseason, makes thing very interesting at the linebacker position. The Vikings practice squad could be littered with reserve LBs, as the injuries to this talented group has made it difficult to assess. Of 11 LBs in camp, six missed time with injury, and if Homan doesn’t return from his concussion, he could be put on IR–where he should have company with Brinkley–making room for Onatolu, Farwell, preseason standout Larry Dean or even recent re-signee David Herron. Then there is the case of DE Everson Griffen, who spent this week taking reps at the LB position. Who knows what this team will do with the backup LB jobs.
“This is a test for him, a test for us to find out what he can do,” said defensive coordinator Fred Pagac of Griffen. “We just want to know what his capabilities are, find out if he’ll be able to help us out down the road if something would happen to pop up. But he’s probably going to play 50 percent at the end and 50 percent at linebacker, so he’s going to be playing a lot of football this week.”
The job of starting strong safety will be worth watching one last time–though some already feel it is set. Tyrell Johnson may get the start, but the smart money for the job is on Jamarca Sanford who has performed just a little better in the preseason.
“The guys have been fighting all camp,” said Pagac. “I think both of them have done an excellent job. Obviously they are going to fight and we’re going to make a decision after this game, see how they do. Both of them have done a very good job so far.”
One player to keep an eye on is rookie DL Christian Ballard, who got first team reps in passing situations against Dallas and came up with the only sack of QB Tony Romo. Ballard has been moving between interior defensive line to the backup end spot this week at practice, so you never know where he might line up.
“We like Christian a lot,” said Pagac. “We think he’s going to be a excellent football player. Obviously, he has a lot to learn yet. He’s improving daily and before it’s all said and done we think he’s going to be a really fine football player. “
Constant improvement is what the coaches preached all summer–improve every day. Well, for the players on the field Thursday, that improvement needs to show up now. According to the coaches, big statements can still be made in the final preseason, so we will see who steps up to make one.