With the first round of roster cuts in the books, the next item on the NFL preseason schedule is Week 4 matchups. Every team will play in their final game this Thursday, allowing players ample amount of rest before Week 1 of the regular season. The Minnesota Vikings will head south to meet the Tennessee Titans in a matchup that should be almost completely absent of first-team players.
Vikings’ head coach Mike Zimmer put the team’s quarterback competition to rest earlier this week, naming Matt Cassel the regular season Week 1 starter. Cassel likely will not step foot on the field this Thursday, especially after what happened to St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford last week. The Titans will likely exercise the same caution with Jake Locker, as a few extra reps against a second-team defense are not worth risking injury.
While the Vikings have their quarterback situation straightened out, at least for the time being, Zimmer has yet to determine a starter at both middle linebacker and strong safety. Linebacker Jasper Brinkley and safety Robert Blanton will enter Thursday’s matchup as the favorites to win these two spots, but nothing is set in stone just yet. Audie Cole will do his best to overthrow Brinkley while Blanton attempts to fend off a host of defensive backs that includes Jamarca Sanford, Kurt Coleman, Chris Crocker and Andrew Sendejo.
For the Titans, running back will be the most interesting position to watch. Rookie Bishop Sankey, currently listed third on the Titans’ unofficial depth chart behind Shonn Greene and Dexter McCluster, has received far-and-away the most carries this preseason. Many expect for the Titans to open the regular season with Sankey as the No. 1 running back, Greene as the goal line back, and McCluster as basically a wide receiver in the backfield. The way head coach Ken Whisenhunt chooses to distribute carries during this final preseason matchup may provide some clarity to this forecast.
Rookie quarterbacks Teddy Bridgewater and Zach Mettenberger should see plenty of action with most veterans taking a seat this week. The two signal callers will play an important role in determining the fate of each team’s roster bubble receivers. For the Vikings, Rodney Smith will attempt to force the Vikings into keeping a sixth wide receiver on their 53-man roster. Smith will look to keep pace with Adam Thielen, while fending off Kain Colter and Donte Foster. As for the Titans, the battle for the final spot or two will be between Marc Mariani, Michael Preston, Brian Robiskie and Rico Richardson.
With final roster cuts due this Saturday, these wide receivers, as well as many other players, will have their last chance to prove why they deserve a spot on their respective team’s 53-man roster. Keep a special eye on Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder, as it is assumed he will play quite a bit this week. While it is certainly not a guarantee that the Vikings will cut Ponder, it is more than reasonable to view Ponder’s play Thursday as an audition for other NFL teams.
In what should be a lengthy matchup between promising rookie quarterbacks, Thursday’s game between the Vikings and Titans should be one of the more entertaining Week 4 preseason matchups.