Notebook: Devin Aromashodu, Jarius Wright rise to Vikings' challenge
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HOUSTON -- All week, Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier challenged his receivers to prove they can make a big play. Two of them responded in a big way on Thursday night.
"To see Devin make that play before the half," Frazier said, "I told (receivers coach) George Stewart, I said, 'Now that's what we've been asking for.'"
Aromashodu finished with five catches for 89 yards. Wright had six for 122 before going to the bench with a sprained left ankle with 8 minutes, 58 seconds to go.
"I think we all stepped up, everybody that had opportunities to do that," Aromashodu said. "I think we did good and showed that we can help this team out."
Wright set up Aromashodu's touchdown by absorbing a big hit from safety Troy Nolan to haul in a 22-yard reception in front of the Texans bench.
Two plays later, Aromashodu got his head around just in time to catch Sage Rosenfels' pass on a post pattern. He bounced off Nolan and beat safety Quintin Demps to the end zone with 33 seconds left in the half.
"It came kind of early, so I was trying to find it," Aromashodu said. "Just took a good bounce my way. I was able to locate it and get in."
Aromashodu also was wide open for what would have been a 49-yard score two possessions earlier, but Rosenfels' pass sailed well out of bounds.
Wright's touchdown came on a straight go route up the sideline. The cornerback released him without a jam and safety Shiloh Keo took a poor angle as Wright sped by to catch McLeod Bethel-Thompson's pass.
"I really couldn't tell you what coverage they was in, just for the simple fact of I think the corner and safety got confused," Wright said. "It looked like a Cover-2 look, but the corner didn't try to get his hands on me and the safety never moved outside. Just ran straight down the field and my quarterback put the ball on the money."
A fourth-round draft pick from Arkansas, Wright got some action with the first unit in the first two preseason games. But he didn't catch a single ball and admitted he never really felt in the flow of the offense until Thursday.
"It was a lot of what we saw when Rick (Spielman, the Vikings' general manager) and the scouts really presented him to us as a staff," Frazier said. "A guy who has a lot of toughness, plays bigger than his size and is pretty good with the ball after the catch. So, that was encouraging to see some of the things that he did."
Burton had a 15-yard catch in traffic on third-and-16 early, dropped a pass on third-and-5 to stall another drive and finished with three receptions for 47 yards. Arceneaux was targeted seven times but caught only two for 28 yards.
Frazier said earlier in the week he expects to keep five receivers on the 53-man roster -- not including Simpson, whose reps at split end may end up going to Aromashodu during his three-game suspension to start the season.
That would mean only one cut at the position, although the Vikings recently have worked out at least one free-agent receiver, Chris Summers, and may be active on waivers after Friday's 8 p.m. cutdown deadline.
Wright left the field with a trainer under each arm after the ankle twisted awkwardly on a tackle by Texans cornerback Sherrick McManis. But he downplayed the injury in the locker room.
"It was just a little roll," Wright said. "I'm definitely fine. Not injured or anything. I'll be fine."
Linebacker Marvin Mitchell sprained his left ankle with 8:58 to go in the first quarter and didn't return.
Frazier said neither injury is believed to be the more serious high ankle sprain.
The only other injury Frazier mentioned was to backup tackle DeMarcus Love, who aggravated the pectoral/shoulder injury that kept him sidelined for the first three preseason games. The Vikings already are thin at the backup offensive line spots, with Geoff Schwartz's status for the opener still uncertain as he recovers from sports hernia surgery.
Pat Brown had two penalties on Thursday, could have been flagged for two more and limped off at one point after taking a shot to one of his legs.
"We went into it with some concerns, because of Geoff's situation ... along with DeMarcus," Frazier said. "Our depth is a little bit iffy on the offensive line and that's one of the areas we're going to discuss in-depth (Friday)."
Safety Robert Blanton appeared to suffer a shoulder stinger in the third quarter. He returned, as did Brown.
Safety Mistral Raymond (back spasms) should be ready when practice resumes on Monday, Frazier said.
Tight end John Carlson (knee) "got in some good work with the offense these last few days," Frazier said, "so he's a little bit farther ahead of where Geoff is, so we feel a little bit more comfortable with him."
The Vikings' big plays weren't limited to the passing game.
Jordan Todman, who battled a sprained ankle for most of training camp and missed the first two preseason games, tiptoed the sideline on a 76-yard touchdown run with 6:55 left in the third quarter.
"It was great blocking up front and they got to the second level also, picking up the linebackers," Todman said. "I just did my reads, used my footwork and I escaped backside and turned the corner and was off to the races. I was able to beat out a guy and it felt great to get up to top speed, be able to stride, push off and score."
Todman said he "didn't feel the ankle at all" even as he opened it up on the touchdown. He finished with 114 yards on 10 carries (11.4 average), plus five catches for 21 yards.
But Todman acknowledged it may be too little, too late to make the roster. Matt Asiata started the game and gained 43 yards on seven carries (6.1 average). Lex Hilliard ran seven times for 33 yards (4.7 average) on a night the Vikings ran for 245 yards as a team.
"To see Jordan step up the way he did -- that was one of the things we were hoping to see," Frazier said "... It was good to see him break that long run. He'll definitely be a part of the discussion when we talk (Friday)."
Not a good night
This wasn't the finest performance for Mike Priefer's special teams.
Blair Walsh pulled a 43-yard field-goal attempt wide left in the first quarter, Houston's Trindon Holliday returned a punt 76 yards for a touchdown in the third and Reggie Jones muffed a punt minutes later, setting up another Texans touchdown.
It appeared something went wrong in the operation on Walsh's miss, causing the ball to come out sideways. Walsh made his only other field-goal attempt from 36 yards in the second quarter, with holder Chris Kluwe wrangling an inside snap from Cullen Loeffler.
With Marcus Sherels (ankle) inactive, Stephen Burton got the first crack on kick returns and Wright on punt returns. Burton averaged 25.5 yards on four kick returns and Todman returned one for 29. Jones didn't get another chance after his muff. Wright averaged 6.0 yards on three punt returns, fair catching two others.
Dean also missed a tackle on DeVier Posey's 80-yard touchdown catch.
Lot to talk about
Thursday's game lasted 3 hours, 20 minutes, thanks in part to a series of delays as a replacement officiating crew led by referee Donovan Briggans repeatedly needed extra time to properly spot the football.
The longest delay lasted roughly 7 minutes after officials missed an illegal touch by a Texans gunner on a punt and had to review the play. The crowd booed Briggans on at least three occasions. He also had a lengthy discussion with Frazier about where the ball was spotted after a personal foul call.
"Yeah. We talked about it for a long time. We did," Frazier said. "There were a few things we talked about for a long time."
The NFL remains at a stalemate in labor talks with its locked-out officials and sent a memo to teams this week indicating the replacement officials are expected to be on the field when the regular season begins.
The league has also issued directives to team officials and coaches not to comment on the officiating, although that hasn't stopped players, including Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, from complaining about the replacement officials' knowledge of the rules.
Asked if he's concerned about all the delays, Frazier said, "No. Myself, the players, we ain't going nowhere. We're going to be there. No matter how long the game takes, we're going to be there."
Last call for MBT?
Bethel-Thompson drove the Vikings from their 1-yard line deep into Houston territory in the final minutes, converting a fourth-and-11 pass to tight end Mickey Shuler for 19 yards along the way.
But the drive stalled at the Houston 21-yard line, with cornerback Brendan Harris getting away with wrapping one arm around Shuler's waist as Bethel-Thompson's pass fell incomplete at the sticks.
Bethel-Thompson played the entire second half and finished 15-of-29 passing for 193 yards, the touchdown to Wright and an interception.
"The more experience I can get, the better," Bethel-Thompson said. "In those pressure situations, that's the quarterback's job is perform under pressure. Unfortunately, it didn't happen (Thursday) and we didn't get the win, and that's what it comes down to."
Sage Rosenfels, who has worked ahead of Bethel-Thompson since camp opened, played the second quarter and was 7-of-11 with the touchdown to Aromashodu.
Each quarterback took two sacks.
• Houston police said a 45-year-old man fell three stories to his death while fooling around on an escalator during the game. Reliant Park issued a media release acknowledging there had been an accident involving a patron falling from an escalator. "The patron was transported to an area hospital," the release said. "An investigation is ongoing."
• Blanton made his preseason debut, started and played from start to finish after sitting out the first three games with a hamstring injury. "I thought he did some good things," Frazier said. "You could tell he was a little rusty early on. There were a few things that he wasn't quite on with. But overall, the fact that he played the entire game and really, I thought, held up fairly well."
• The Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars had scouts at the game. The Dolphins play the Texans and the Jaguars play the Vikings in Week 1.
• The Vikings' captains were Kluwe, Jenkins and NT Fred Evans.