The Minnesota Vikings will play their final preseason game Thursday night on the road against the Houston Texans, and with final roster cuts looming there is plenty at stake for players who are trying to earn a spot on the final 53-man roster.
The Minnesota Vikings’ key players will see little or no action on Thursday night, which will open opportunity for plenty of others to make a final impression on the coaching staff ahead of Friday night’s deadline for teams to cut their roster from 75 down to 53.
Here are five players whose performance will be worth watching in a game that is otherwise fairly meaningless.
1. QB Joe Webb
With Christian Ponder among the regulars not playing at all tonight, Webb will start and should play a fair amount. There is some buzz he is not guaranteed a spot on the final roster, but a good performance against the Texans would quell that talk and cement his status as Ponder’s backup heading into Week 1. The team is committed to making him into a quarterback exclusively despite his all-around athletic talent, and Webb still has to prove he can run Minnesota’s regular offense consistently.
2. LB Audie Cole
Simply put, the Vikings lack quality linebackers beyond starters Chad Greenway, Erin Henderson and Jasper Brinkley, so there is plenty of opportunities for others to earn a spot as a backup. Cole, a seventh-round pick in April, is in that mix and if he can build on his solid preseason to this point the team will have no choice but to give him a spot on the final roster.
3. WR Devin Aromashodu
The Vikings are not expected to deploy wide receivers Percy Harvin and Michael Jenkins against Houston, and it safe to say Jerome Simpson won’t play either. So there is an opportunity for someone to make an impression, and perhaps earn a significant early season role while Simpson serves his three-game suspension. Aromashodu is in that mix, and he may have the best physical tools among a group that includes Stephen Burton, rookie Jarius Wright and Emmanuel Arceneaux.
4. QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson
Bethel-Thompson is a long shot to make the final 53-man roster as the Vikings’ No. 3 quarterback, but he will get a opportunity to play a lot against the Texans once Webb and Sage Rosenfels are out of the game. His arm strength has been notable throughout training camp and the preseason, and it will be interesting to see how he looks in extensive playing time even against players who may themselves not make Houston’s final roster. Even if he is not kept on the final 53, Bethel-Thompson is a candidate for Minnesota’s practice squad.
5. DT Christian Ballard
Starting nose tackle Letroy Guion will miss Thursday night’s game as he works his way back from a knee injury he suffered in the first preseason game, and Fred Evans is still in line to be his primary backup heading into the season. But Ballard, a fourth-round pick out of Iowa in 2011, should see plenty of playing time during the second half of tonight’s game and he has an opportunity to earn a role as a top backup along the Vikings’ defensive line. He does have some versatility, having played defensive end in college, and Minnesota lacks good depth at that spot behind starters Jared Allen and Brian Robison.