Notebook: McLeod Bethel-Thompson flashes along tough road with Vikings
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Two years ago, Joe Webb's electric touchdown run late in an exhibition game at Candlestick Park vaulted him onto the Minnesota Vikings' roster.
On Friday night, Webb couldn't get anything going -- and another young quarterback flashed some intriguing tools in the fourth quarter.
McLeod Bethel-Thompson threw a back-foot bullet to Kerry Taylor up the seam for a 28-yard gain on third-and-14 and hit Allen Reisner for 14 yards off a bootleg on the next snap, showing off the arm talent that's been evident throughout the offseason.
The 24-year-old Sacramento State product completed only one of his other five pass attempts, to Taylor for 7 yards, and was intercepted by Perrish Cox on the Vikings' final snap in a 17-6 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in both teams' exhibition opener.
But Bethel-Thompson's throw to Taylor was notable, both because of the degree of difficulty and because it gained more yards than Webb generated (20) in 11 passes and four completions over five punchless drives.
"We wanted to continue to look at (Webb) and we wanted to give him as many opportunities to continue to show that he's in the right spot playing quarterback," coach Leslie Frazier said after the game. "We'll do the same thing next week -- give him opportunities to continue to grow as a quarterback, and throughout this preseason."
Bethel-Thompson figures to get more chances, too, as he fights the uphill battle to make the 53-man roster with his third NFL team. He went to camp with the 49ers last year and later had a short stint on the Miami Dolphins' practice squad, joining the United Football League's Sacramento Mountain Lions in between.
The theme has been Bethel-Thompson's inability to get on -- and stay on -- the field since he left UCLA after his redshirt freshman year in 2007. He transferred to Sacramento State, a Division I Football Championship Subdivision program, and suffered two season-ending injuries in three seasons, throwing only 21 passes as a senior in 2010.
The Vikings signed Bethel-Thompson to a two-year deal that included a $5,000 bonus in January -- about two months before they re-signed journeyman Sage Rosenfels as a mentor to young starter Christian Ponder and Webb, who has split time at receiver in the past but is focusing strictly on quarterback this offseason.
Webb's rare athleticism and dynamic efforts in relief all but assure his spot as Ponder's top backup. Rosenfels, 34, hasn't done much with his share of the third-string reps in camp, but the structure of his two-year contract is a strong indication his longtime supporter, general manager Rick Spielman, intends to keep him around, too.
In lieu of a signing bonus, the Vikings guaranteed $500,000 of Rosenfels' $1.45 million base salary for 2012. He also got a $50,000 workout bonus in each year and $1 million in incentives, based mostly on playing time.
The salary cap isn't an issue for the Vikings, who ranked in the middle of the pack with $7.1 million in cap space as of Saturday evening. But paying Rosenfels $550,000 to not be on the roster this season seems improbable, too, since the Vikings gave him that deal barely five months ago.
More likely, Bethel-Thompson is auditioning like everyone else for an opening that might arise somewhere in the league, even on a practice squad. A dozen NFL teams and several more from Canada and the UFL had scouts in the press box for Friday's game.
Top draft pick Matt Kalil held up well enough on Friday that Frazier raised his name unprompted when asked about the play of the offensive line.
"I liked some things that Matt did," Frazier said. "He's played with a lot of confidence. They have some guys who can come off the edge."
The 49ers played without All-Pro defensive tackle Justin Smith and lost another key starter, outside linebacker Aldon Smith, to a hip injury shortly after he provided Kalil's one obvious rookie moment.
That came on third-and-7, with Smith beating Kalil around the edge to pressure Christian Ponder into a throwaway that forced the Vikings to settle for the first of their two field goals in the starters' two series.
Ponder, who completed 4 of 9 passes for 80 yards, called the protection "outstanding" and pointed out he had enough time to get to his third read on a 52-yard completion to Stephen Burton. He wasn't sacked in 11 designed passing plays.
"I think that's a big statement for Matt Kalil to come in in his first game as a rookie and starting against a great defense," Ponder said. "They all did extremely well, but yeah, it's exciting to see Matt coming in and do well."
Mixing it up
The Vikings opted to sit Percy Harvin on Friday in part because they wanted a longer look at Burton, who played nine of 17 snaps when the starting unit was on the field.
He wasn't the only young player to get extra opportunities either.
Both are expected to make the team. But it was a surprise to see them get that much time in the exhibition opener, given that they've had veterans ahead of them on the depth chart since camp began.
Frazier said a personnel meeting was scheduled for Saturday and changes to the depth chart could be coming.
"We'll sit down and talk about everybody that played and those that didn't play as well and go through our entire roster and just try to do the things that'll hopefully help up keep improving," Frazier said.
The rest of the snaps at the skill positions with the starters went to tight end Kyle Rudolph (15), receiver Jerome Simpson (15), halfback Toby Gerhart (14), receiver Michael Jenkins (nine), fullback Jerome Felton (seven) and halfback Lex Hilliard (three), who replaced Gerhart at the start of the second quarter.
An MRI on nose tackle Letroy Guion's right knee revealed nothing new, an NFL source said, leaving the timetable at one to two weeks for him to return from a minor injury to his posterior cruciate ligament.
Guion was injured on the 49ers' opening drive on Friday and didn't return. At one point, he was spotted in the bench area, limping with a bag of ice on the knee.
Frazier said on Saturday there were believed to be no other new injuries out of the game.
Three of the players who didn't make the trip -- guard Geoff Schwartz (sports hernia surgery), tackle DeMarcus Love (pectoral) and receiver Kamar Jorden (hand) -- are expected to remain sidelined when practice resumes on Sunday morning in Mankato. Tight end John Carlson (knee) seems unlikely to return on Sunday either.
Saturday's personnel meeting was scheduled to involve a discussion of whether to activate halfback Adrian Peterson (knee) from the active/physically unable to perform list. No decision had been finalized as of early Saturday evening.
• The Chicago Bears signed free-agent LB Xavier Adibi, who appeared in four games on special teams last season with the Vikings and was inactive for the other 12.
Judd Zulgad contributed.