Notebook: Desmond Bishop, Marcus Sherels impress in preseason finale
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Most Minnesota Vikings starters wore pads on Thursday night, but did so for the camera as they completed a string of in-game sideline interviews with their replacements on the field for the final preseason game.
Linebacker Erin Henderson (heel), cornerback Chris Cook (groin), fullback Jerome Felton (appendectomy), defensive tackles Sharrif Floyd (knee) and Kevin Williams (knee) were the only starters to not dress due to known injuries. Receivers Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson were without pads as well.
But that didn't stop linebacker Desmond Bishop and cornerback Marcus Sherels from creating a little buzz two days before the Vikings trim their roster to 53 players.
Bishop started as linebackers Henderson, Chad Greenway and Marvin Mitchell did not play. He accumulated five tackles, two for losses, and two assisted tackles in the only three defensive series of the first half.
"[Bishop] has struggled with injuries over the last year or so, so to see him come out and compete the way he did and put some good tape out there the last two weeks, he was just kind of getting his feet wet in that Buffalo game," Coach Leslie Frazier said. "We're going to have some strong discussions about him [Friday]."
Both of Bishop's tackles behind the line of scrimmage came on the Tennessee Titans' first drive, in which the Titans' starting offense converted a 28-yard field goal after 18 plays against a second-string defense.
Veteran experience can take a player a long way, even if he hasn't been established in the defensive system. That seems to be Bishop's recipe, as he's relied on his instincts to bring him into the conversation about starting at linebacker.
"I'm kind of an instinctive guy, that's one of my strengths," Bishop said. "It's a process. Everything, the whole transformation, defense, getting my feet back under me. Still, it's all been a process and incidentally I've been getting better each time."
Mitchell and Bishop are locked up at the battle for starting weak-side linebacker and Mitchell's absence couldn't have helped his cause -- especially with the way Bishop continues to perform.
Bishop was cut by the Green Bay Packers in June, signed with the Vikings after they completed all offseason activities and instead of being hobbled by injuries and behind on the playbook, Bishop is now in the bid for a starting job.
"Talk about how quickly things can change," Bishop said. "I'm just grateful to be back healthy and back playing in games. I'm just grateful."
Cornerback Marcus Sherels took the second-half opening kickoff 109 yards for a touchdown after watching his first two opportunities sail over his head. The Titans coverage unit appeared to think he was going to let the third one go as well.
With Patterson sidelined, Sherels didn't play much defense in the first half and set up shop in the back of the endzone. He elected to take out the only kickoff he got his hands on, even though it was nine yards behind the goal line.
Frazier said he gave Sherels permission to miss the team's third preseason game at San Francisco so he could attend the funeral of his father. Sherels was worried about not playing, but Frazier assured him it would be a non-issue.
Sherels rewarded Frazier's patience on Thursday.
"Everybody loves the way Marcus competes," Frazier said. "We were all pulling for him."
Two Titans turnovers ended their first two drives of the second half, one to a fumble by safety Darius Eubanks and another to an interception by Sherels.
Sherels undercut a crossing route and picked off Titans' quarterback Rusty Smith.
"For him to come out and play the way he did tonight tells you a lot about Marcus' heart, his character," Frazier said. "As an organization we try to be supportive of all of our guys."
Sherels' performance bodes well for a player that seemed on the bubble as his main competitor, cornerback Bobby Felder, had excelled over Sherels in both coverage and in the return game so far this preseason.
Felder left the game late in the third quarter after getting beat on a 50-yard pass from Smith to Titans' receiver Rashad Ross and came up holding his right ankle. Medical staff approached Felder, who hopped off the field on his left leg before attempting to put pressure on his injured right ankle.
The Vikings announced mid-game that Felder would receive X-rays, but Frazier said after the game that Felder has a sprained ankle.
Guard at center
Baca performed as well as you could expect for a rookie playing a relatively new position. Baca and backup center Joe Berger (who was playing guard most of the game) had a miscommunication on a Titans' stunt that led to a Bethel-Thompson sack in the third quarter, but other than that the position switch was clean.
"I'm getting more comfortable there," Baca said. "The biggest thing is just the mental aspect, picking up responsibilities, calling out Mike, identifying defense. Whereas at guard you're more listening to calls by the center."
Berger opened the game as center with quarterback Matt Cassel, but was forced back into duty when Olsen went down at the end of the second quarter after taking a knee to the helmet. He was down on the field for about 10 minutes and was ultimately strapped to a gurney and carted off.
It appeared much worse than it actually was, because Frazier said after the game that Olsen escaped with a concussion.
"Once Seth [Olsen] was out, they didn't want to keep switching me from center, to guard, guard to center," Baca said. "So [Frazier] just left me at center and Joe [Berger], just like me, has played both."
•The Vikings gave every chance to running back Joe Banyard on Thursday night as the fourth-string ball carrier assumed duties for every drive except the opening one. Banyard's 62 yards led the team on the ground and he also caught seven passes, including a 11-yard touchdown catch from Bethel-Thompson.
Banyard's solid preseason ended with a bang, but it might not be enough to jump running back Matt Asiata on the depth chart. Asiata's eight carries on the opening drive resulted in 32 yards and a touchdown against the Titans' first-team defense and behind the backup offensive line.
"I definitely want to be here with this team," Banyard said. "I had to showcase what I can do for this team, so I did."
•All in one snap, fans saw the pros and cons of rookie cornerback Xavier Rhodes on Thursday night. Rhodes was called for defensive holding in the first quarter after jamming Titans' receiver Michael Preston and then swatting a Ryan Fitzpatrick pass to Preston when they were 15 yards downfield.
•Other DNPs on Thursday night: Letroy Guion, Fred Evans, Jared Allen, Brian Robison, Jamarca Sanford, Harrison Smith, Josh Robinson, Jerome Simpson, Jarius Wright, Christian Ponder, Adrian Peterson, Toby Gerhart, Mistral Raymond (shoulder), Brandon Fusco, John Sullivan, Phil Loadholt, Charlie Johnson, Matt Kalil, Kyle Rudolph.