It's getting close to cut-down time in the National Football League, and the Minnesota Vikings are no exception. The date to cut the roster down to 75 players is on August 27th, just two days after the Vikings finish their third pre-season game of 2013 against the defending NFC Champions, the San Francisco 49ers.
We've got some position battles that we'll be keeping an eye on this Sunday night, as this will be the last chance that players have to make an impression on the coaches and stay on the roster. . .at least temporarily, as the cut-down to 53 players will happen on August 31, just two days after Minnesota's final pre-season game against the Tennessee Titans. Our friends from Niners Nation have given us some things to look for as well, and we'll include their thoughts, courtesy of David Fucillo from NN.
In fact, we're going to do theirs first. . .we'll have a link to their story on Niners Nation so that we can get a little back-and-forth going between us and NN between now and game time. Here are the three position battles that Niners fans will be keeping their eyes on this Sunday night.
Wide receiver: After Anquan Boldin, it seems like Kyle Williams and Marlon Moore are the closest to locks at some early playing time. Rookie Quinton Patton is assured a roster spot, leaving a couple spots for seven receivers to battle over. The 49ers recently dealt away A.J. Jenkins for Jon Baldwin, which followed the team's signings of Austin Collie and Lavelle Hawkins. That's a lot of mouths to feed, and only two more weeks to figure out who will do what. It's really a mess, but one that 49ers fans will be tracking closely
Third cornerback: Nnamdi Asomugha and Tramaine Brock are competing for the third cornerback spot. Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown are currently the starting corners, and when the team switches to the nickel (frequently), Rogers moves to the slot. Brock has been primarily a special teams player, while Nnamdi was a mess in Philadelphia. A sleeper in this competition is Perrish Cox. The former Bronco draft pick joined the 49ers last season, and emerged as the team's dime cornerback. He is having a strong preseason, and could work his way into the mix among the starting cornerbacks.
Pass rush depth: The 49ers have a pair of great outside linebackers in Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks, but last season the pass rush as a whole wore down by the end of the season. The 49ers addressed it with some offseason moves, and are now trying to figure out what they have. Rookie Corey Lemonier has been a revelation with his natural pass rushing skills. Parys Haralson is back after a triceps ended his season prematurely last year. Cam Johnson, a 2012 seventh round pick, is also in the mix. All three have shown a lot, and all three should get a lot of snaps on Sunday.
And now, the ones that we're looking for this Sunday.
Wide receiver: The Vikings appear to have four guys that are locks at wide receiver. Those guys are Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jarius Wright, and Jerome Simpson. What are the Vikings going to do at that #5 receiver spot? Stephen Burton appears to have a leg up on the competition at this point, but one of the sentimental favorites appears to be receiver-turned-quarterback-turned-receiver Joe Webb. Undrafted rookie Rodney Smith made a bit of an impression last week against Buffalo as well. Can Webb and/or Smith make enough of an impression to leapfrog Burton in the eyes of the coaches? Is Simpson's grasp on a spot as iron-clad as many of us seem to think it is at this point? We'll have to keep an eye on how this develops.
Linebacker: Newly-acquired Desmond Bishop hasn't gotten a lot of run with the first-team defense, but it appears that he will get some on Sunday night. Will he be able to establish himself as a starter? We'll also have to keep an eye on what happens with the back-up linebacker positions, and how rookies Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti establish themselves. And what about OMG AUDIE COLE? Will last year's pre-season hero make the roster this year? At a position where the only certainties appear to be Chad Greenway on the strong side and Erin Henderson in the middle, there is certainly some room to maneuver for roster spots.
Third running back: We know that Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart are the clear 1-2 punch in the Vikings' backfield, but what are the Vikings going to do with that third spot? The two main combatants for the spot at this point appear to be a couple of undrafted rookies. Zach Line has certainly made an impression, providing solid play after his 61-yard touchdown reception on his first NFL touch. The shifty Bradley Randle is another of those sentimental favorites that a lot of folks would like to see make the team. Line is also in play to be the backup to Jerome Felton at fullback, and with Felton still out after his appendectomy a couple of weeks ago, Line will have his opportunities to make his impressions at that spot as well.
What position battles are you looking forward to evaluating on Sunday night, folks?