Notebook: Vikings WRs get one more chance to show they can make a play
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Percy Harvin and Michael Jenkins are on the long list of players the Minnesota Vikings plan to sit for Thursday's exhibition finale at Houston, giving coaches an extended look at the four other receivers likely battling for three jobs.
Coach Leslie Frazier on Tuesday said it's "more than likely" the Vikings will keep five receivers on the 53-man roster in addition to starting split end Jerome Simpson, who won't count against the limit during his three-game suspension to start the season.
That leaves three spots for some combination of Devin Aromashodu, Stephen Burton, Emmanuel Arceneaux and rookie Jarius Wright, with only Wright's spot seemingly secure because he's a fourth-round draft pick.
"All of us would love to see one of those guys make some big plays for us down the field or beat man coverage," Frazier said. "Houston plays a lot of man coverage. That would be good to see, if we can find someone who can show that they can separate and win some one-on-ones, and maybe between those four that are playing, we'll find that."
Production from the split end position was an issue a year ago. Bernard Berrian had only seven catches for 91 yards before his release. Aromashodu caught only 26 of 78 balls thrown his way for 468 yards, and Jenkins had 38 receptions for 466 yards while playing multiple spots before his season-ending knee injury.
No receiver on the Vikings roster has more than three catches total through three preseason games, intensifying the focus on production in a Thursday night matchup most starters will watch in sweats.
"We're going to end up playing Stephen and Jarius quite a bit," Frazier said. "We want to get Devin a lot of snaps as well. ... And the other guy that we'll probably take a look at is Arceneaux. We want to see him again. I don't know how much we'll play Michael Jenkins, if at all, depending on what happens with the other four guys."
Jenkins, 30, took a pay cut this month, lowering his base salary from $2.5 million to $1 million this season, and was the second receiver into Friday's exhibition loss to San Diego. But his only catch in three targets that night was a 13-yarder aided by a cornerback's slip, and he lacks the speed to be a vertical threat.
Aromashodu, 28, got $100,000 in bonuses on the one-year contract he signed in March and has drawn praise for his newfound willingness to compete for 50/50 balls. But he isn't the fastest guy, either, and his long catch in the preseason went for 11 yards.
Burton, 22, had a 52-yard catch in the exhibition opener at San Francisco but has gone quiet since. Arceneaux, 24, had a 48-yard reception on Aug. 17 against Buffalo but has been buried with the third string. Wright, 22, is a slot guy who didn't play much on offense last week because coaches wanted him focusing on returns.
"It's a big game," Frazier said. "We're trying to determine depth along with who's going to line up opposite Percy in that first game. So, yeah, it's a big game -- and whether or not, do we need to look outside of what we have to try to find someone to give us help?"
Simpson told reporters last week he planned to work with his own trainers in Cincinnati and California during his suspension, which will begin after Friday's 53-man cutdown and end the day after the Vikings' third game on Sept. 23 against San Francisco.
But Frazier said the Vikings have received clarification from the NFL that Simpson can remain around the team facility, as long as he doesn't interact with teammates during physical activities.
"He can come to the meetings," Frazier said. "He can't practice. He can't work out with the guys. He can't be in the weight room working out with them. But he can get with (strength and conditioning coordinator) Tom Kanavy and do things alone. He doesn't have to leave the building."
An NFL spokesman said that rule changed "several years ago," allowing suspended players to "be at the facility to provide him with structure and support during his suspension."
Fusco will start
For all intents and purposes, the Vikings' competition at right guard ended when Geoff Schwartz underwent sports hernia surgery on Aug. 7.
Frazier all but made it official on Tuesday, saying Brandon Fusco is expected to start the Sept. 9 opener against Jacksonville.
"There is nothing that anyone else has done that could unseat him," Frazier said. "We haven't had Geoff out there, haven't had DeMarcus (Love, because of a pectoral injury). We like what we've gotten out of Joe Berger. We like some of the things that Chris DeGeare has done. But Brandon, as we speak, is the guy."
A sixth-round draft pick (172nd overall) out of Division II Slippery Rock last season, Fusco has taken all the game reps with the first string since Schwartz's injury. He replaces Anthony Herrera, who was released in March and remains unsigned.
Schwartz, who missed all of last season in Carolina following hip surgery, practiced for a second consecutive day and has said he hopes to be ready for Week 1.
It's MBT time
But Frazier said McLeod Bethel-Thompson will get "a majority" of the playing time as the Vikings continue to evaluate their No. 3 quarterback spot.
"You never know. The door's not shut," Frazier said. "You'd like to see how (Bethel-Thompson) does. He's done a good job in practices from the time we had him back in the spring through the preseason, but we'd like to see how he does again in a game situation."
For Webb, it's the last chance to show he has grown while taking all his reps at quarterback through the offseason. He has struggled so far in the passing game, completing 17 of 34 passes (50%) for 152 yards and a 62.4 rating.
"That was big," Webb said. "Going through OTAs and training camp just at quarterback, I started to see a lot more things that I didn't see as much when I was a rookie and last year."
Peterson responds well
One day after taking contact in practice for the first time since undergoing left knee reconstruction on Dec. 30, halfback Adrian Peterson practiced again and felt no ill effects, Frazier said.
"He felt pretty good," Frazier said. "He woke up (Tuesday) morning, felt pretty good about it, was glad he had a chance to experience a little contact. But no worse for the wear. He felt pretty good, so that was encouraging."
Peterson won't play on Thursday night. The hope continues to be he will be ready for the opener.
Please come back
Punter Chris Kluwe ripped replacement officials via Twitter after Friday's game, calling their performance "horrible" and "kind of embarrassing."
He issued another plea on Tuesday for the NFL and the officials' union to resolve their labor dispute before the regular season begins next week.
"Look at last year -- the Giants, the eventual Super Bowl champions, they were one game out of not making the playoffs," Kluwe said. "So, if you get one bad call that takes the game the complete other way, the entire season's different. ... I don't think the league can afford to have a mistake like that, because then one of those playoff bubble teams (might get left out)."
The league has issued directives to team officials and coaches about not discussing the officiating, but Kluwe said it's only been "recommended" that players do the same.
"At this point, it's like how when we put film out there, everyone can see it," Kluwe said. "Well, the refs have put their film out there and I think everyone has seen it. Hopefully, they get something done in the next week or so."
• With Marcus Sherels (ankle) and Josh Robinson (concussion) sidelined, Wright and CB Reggie Jones figure to get a long look on punt returns against the Texans. "It's a big game for the two of them, for sure," Frazier said.
• Longtime NFL DB Troy Vincent, who is now vice president of the NFL Player Engagement Organization, spoke to players after practice.