Next Tuesday, the 32 teams in the NFL have to make the first set of roster cuts, down to 75 players. For many guys, this is the last NFL game experience they will ever have.
For everyone else, especially the starters, it's one last tune up to get ready for the regular season. Mike Zimmer, in his first season as head coach, has run his regulars a little bit longer than normal in the first two games, but indications are he'll be a little more conventional for the third pre-season game against Kansas City.
As the Vikings head to Arrowhead, what are some things that you need to be paying attention to in this dress rehearsal game?
Can anyone besides Adrian Peterson carry the ball? Look, as long as Adrian Peterson is healthy, the Vikings have the most potent running attack in the NFL. And even when he's been hurt in recent years, Toby Gerhart was there to pick up the slack, and he was more than adequate. But Gerhart's gone, and I don't have a lot of confidence in Matt Asiata or Jerick McKinnon right now. Long term I think McKinnon is going to be a very good back, but short term, if something happens to the Best Running Back in Football, the Vikings might have some serious issues moving the ball on the ground. Since Adrian Peterson won't play Saturday, I want to see someone--anyone--step up and prove they can be a short term answer in case the unthinkable happens.
Is Matt Cassel guaranteed to be the starter? At this point, yeah I think so. He's played well, and it seems that other than a complete meltdown, against the Chiefs, he'll be the guy leading the Vikings come week one in St. Louis. That's not to say we won't see a lot of Teddy Bridgewater, and yeah, there's still a slight chance he could overtake Cassel, but that seems like a tall order at this point of the pre-season. I'd like to see Cassel do well in a place he called home for four seasons, even if it is pre-season.
Hey, who's gonna start opposite Harrison Smith? That's a good question. Nagging injuries have really muddied the secondary, which had a lot of questions heading into training camp, and I don't know that any of them have been answered. In Wednesday's press conference, head coach Mike Zimmer indicated Robert Blanton would get a lot of time Saturday, but only because 'I haven't seen him yet'. So depending on what Blanton does could go a long way in determining who the other starter is at safety. Kurt Coleman, Chris Crocker, and Jamarca Sanford are also in the mix, and this is a position that might not be settled until the very end of pre-season.
Speaking of the defense...: Collectively, I'd like to see the first team defense do a little better than they did against Arizona. They looked very good against Oakland, but took a definite step back against one of the better offenses in the NFL. Kansas City will be a stiff test, and an improvement over last week would be a nice way to give Vikings fans some confidence about the defense's extreme makeover in the off-season.
So, Jerome Simpson and his three game suspension. What's the deal there? Here's my thinking, for what it's worth. I thought a Simpson suspension was kind of remote, so of course he's going to get a longer suspension than Ray Rice got for knocking his wife out. Because of course he is. But that opens the door for Rodney Smith. It feels like Adam Thielen was going to win the 5th WR spot, and if the Vikings want to start the season with five guys on the roster, that means Smith should make the roster if Simpson is, in fact, suspended. That's still up in the air, but Smith has pushed hard up the depth chart, and had some clutch grabs in the game winning drive against Arizona, to include the game winner. I still don't see him making the 53 man roster if Simpson isn't suspended, but he has definitely closed the gap on Thielen.
Can you really make the club in the tub? One thing that has come to define Coach Zimmer in his short time at the helm is his candidness, without coming off as confrontational. I did a whole post on this and how he reminds me in many ways of Bill Parcells, but not as in your face about it. Earlier this week, he became visibly frustrated with Josh Robinson and his injury status, and uttered the 'you can't make the club in the tub' line. Would he actually cut him? I doubt it, but like Parcells, he has sent a message: Be ready to compete all the time, and don't think your past status will get you a free ride.
Because come Tuesday, about 15 guys won't make the club, tub or no tub.