Pelissero: Starters mostly set, but Vikings' backup plans are clouded
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings wrapped the preseason on Thursday night with 26 contributors on the sideline and their backups rolling over the Houston Texans 28-0.
"Now, the real tough part of the job begins," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "With such a great effort from so many (Thursday) night, it's going to make it tough for our staff to finalize that 53-man roster, which is a good problem to have."
Coaches and personnel men will begin the final evaluation process early Friday morning. By 5 p.m. Saturday, they'll have made 27 moves -- at least -- to reduce the roster from 80.
The only clouded starting jobs are at strong safety and punt returner. And although the Vikings surely entered Thursday with a strong sense of who would make the cut, those final 60 minutes may have raised a couple more questions they have 1½ days to resolve.
"I was talking to Rick Spielman (the Vikings' vice president of player personnel) earlier about just that fact," Frazier said. "We're going to have some strong discussions (Friday) at certain positions, and we've got to be able to make some good decisions and realizing that there may be some good football players that may not make our team, but there are some good football players that will."
The following is an educated guess at how the roster might shake out, not including trades or other acquisitions, and the issues that will influence the final decisions:
Key question: Did Ponder do enough to take the No. 2 job over Webb? He finished 10-of-17 passing for 83 yards, a score and a 91.1 rating on Thursday, leading two touchdown drives, but continued to appear out of sorts when he stayed in the pocket. The rookie also scrambled eight times for 61 yards, including a 15-yarder on a broken play to set up the first touchdown. Webb was 5-of-6 passing for 43 yards and a 96.5 rating, plus one rush for 12, and led a pair of 11-play touchdown drives after taking over in the third quarter. Either way, there's no 53-man decision here. All three will be on the roster.
Running backs (3)
Key question: Are either of the fullbacks worth keeping? The short answer is no, although D'Imperio probably had his best game on Thursday. Asiata has an intriguing skill set but probably belongs on the practice squad for now. The Vikings could comb the waiver wire and the street for an alternative, or they could flex their tight ends into the backfield even more than they did in the preseason. Davis worked ahead of Robinson and King, who didn't play until the third quarter but impressed with 19 carries for 62 yards and two scores. The injuries that sidelined Gerhart (ankle/Achilles) and Booker (back) of late aren't expected to keep them out of the Sept. 11 opener at San Diego, so the Vikings probably will try to slip King through to the practice squad. That might have gotten a little more difficult after the way he played on Thursday.
Key question: Are Camarillo's sure hands and special-teams ability worth $1.725 million? If not, draw straws between Arceneaux, Iglesias and Johnson, who worked ahead of the other two on Thursday but has minimal value if he's not the starting punt returner. Aromashodu isn't a lock for the roster, especially after going without a catch the final two preseason games. But he probably is the best special teamer of the bunch and has the most NFL playing experience. Arceneaux just hasn't gotten many opportunities.
Tight ends (4)
Out: Allen Reisner.
Key question: Are the Vikings willing to risk losing Reisner on waivers, as they did last season with Mickey Shuler? If not, there's an outside chance they could keep him over Dugan, whose blocking ability probably will let him hang on if the Vikings go without a fullback. Shiancoe missed the entire preseason with hamstring problems, but he's expected to practice on Monday and isn't believed to be in trouble, despite a $3.1 million base salary and $4.2 million cap number.
Offensive linemen (9)
Key question: Will an experienced tackle/guard hit the street on Saturday? The Vikings signed Scott Kooistra to fill that role, but he broke his neck in Seattle. They also brought in Cook, but he's mostly an inside player at this stage, leaving only DeGeare -- who probably belongs at guard and missed Thursday's game because of a concussion -- to back up the edge if Loadholt or Johnson goes down. Love's potential probably gives him the edge over Brown, who was claimed off waivers twice last season. Waiving Fusco would be a risk, especially after the way he blocked on Thursday, but he has a long way to go before he's ready to contribute.
Defensive linemen (9)
Key question: Is Evans the Vikings' only backup plan at nose tackle? If so, he'll make the team, despite a lackluster 2010 and a typically uneven preseason. Reed flashed in training camp before a calf slowed him down, probably relegating him to the practice squad. White had a sack on Thursday and might have something left at age 32. But Awasom and Griffen were two of the Vikings' camp stars and there only are so many snaps to go around behind Allen and Robison.
Key question: Who would be the next man in if one of the Vikings' starting linebackers goes down? Brinkley had the most playing time on defense of this group, but it's hard to imagine the Vikings waiting two months or more for him to recover from hip surgery. Herron started three games for the Vikings in 2008 but none since. Farwell is a career special teamer with a $1.75 million base salary. Onatolu still doesn't look right after missing time with a stress fracture in his foot. Dean might have been in position to grab one of the last spots until Thursday, when he had two penalties on special teams and appeared lost on defense. Homan has upside as a three-position backup but didn't flash much in the preseason. This position group easily is the toughest to peg -- no combination of backups would be surprising, and the Vikings may look outside for insurance.
Defensive backs (11)
Key question: Who's the starting strong safety? Because if it's Sanford, there's at least a chance the Vikings would consider cutting their losses with Johnson, the former second-round pick who lost the job in camp last year, dropped an interception on Thursday and has a $922,250 cap number in the last year of his rookie deal. Otherwise, they'd be going five-deep at safety to retain a player who brings little on special teams. The guess here is the Vikings personnel department isn't ready to give up on Johnson just yet. The toe injury that has cost Allen a couple of weeks is a question mark, too, although Frazier indicated it wouldn't keep him out in Week 1. Sherels, who also figures as the punt returner, and Burton came on strong over the past couple of weeks and may have passed Allen on the depth chart anyway.
Key question: None here, despite Longwell's somewhat uninspiring preseason. It'll be the same group the Vikings have had since 2006.