The Vikings rested some of their key veterans in the preseason opener, giving way to young players to make their mark. In the second preseason game against the Bills on Friday, the plan is to give some of their older players, such as CB Antoine Winfield and DT Kevin Williams and others, additional snaps.
“Our goal is to try to get those guys at least through the first quarter and maybe through part of the second quarter as well,” Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier said Wednesday. “We have a number of plays that we want to get to, and we'll see how it goes. But we want to get everybody some action before we get to that third preseason game.”
And in that third preseason game, we could see the crux of the Vikings’ dilemma: weighing the balance between rebuilding through youth and staying competitive with veterans on the field.
The former is most certainly the preferred approach of newly minted GM Rick Spielman, who received increased power in the offseason, while the latter would be the preference of Frazier, who might or might not be sitting on a hot seat by season’s end.
A lot of the team’s key roster spots could be up for grabs there, with youngsters and veterans possibly going head to head.
WR Michael Jenkins recently took a paycut to reduce his base salary. That certainly increases his chances of making the final roster and perhaps leaves young wideouts Stephen Burton, Emmanuel Arceneaux, Bryan Walters and Kerry Taylor fighting for one, maybe two spots, assuming fourth-rounder Jairus Wright is safe. Veteran Devin Aromashodu’s fight for a spot might have just gotten a little tougher, though he still could land on the first 53-man roster.
Williams is not a lock for the roster. Although he’s in line to start — mainly because there are few more attractive options — Williams either could be cut or traded. It’s not the mostly likely option, but it is a possibility as the team has some depth on the defensive line and a few young players (Christian Ballard, Trevor Guyton, Jeff Charleston and others) who might not be able to sneak through waivers and land safely on the practice squad.
A safer alternative to letting go of Williams would be to part ways with Fred Evans, if he’s not viewed as a regular contributor. The problem is that the team still doesn’t know what it has in NT Letroy Guion and whether he can hold up as a three-down run stopper this season. Evans is the primary backup to Guion now with no real promising young option breathing down his neck.
It’s less clear how things stand in the secondary, but the feeling is that Winfield is good for a spot — and a regular role in the defense, even if the coaches have him on a “pitch count” in the sub-packages. But the question for the remaining DB spots likely comes down to special teams. The team would consider keeping more than 10 defensive backs for strong special-teamers such as Chris Carr and Eric Frampton, but that leaves Zach Bowman, Jamarca Sanford and Marcus Sherels likely having to make the roster without being impact contributors on defense.
In the end, expect a mix of young and old in the final roster moves. We expect a balance between the present (Frazier, if you will) and future (Spielman) as the final roster is constructed. That way the team is not completely selling out to youth and leaving itself vulnerable but not desperately hanging on to veterans in order to try to stay competitive in a division where the Packers, Bears and Lions all legitimately feel they can make a run at the Super Bowl.