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Bleacher Report – Vikings

What to watch for in the Vikings’ preseason finale

By Matthew Coller

The Minnesota Vikings will have their final tune up for the regular season on Thursday night when they match up against the Miami Dolphins at US Bank Stadium.

Here are the five most interesting storylines headed into the game:

Will Zimmer play his starters?

After Tuesday afternoon’s practice, head coach Mike Zimmer said that he thinks some starters should play against the Dolphins. Whether he gets talked out of that plan between then and kickoff on Thursday night is yet to be seen.

At practice, the Vikings used a different combination on the offensive line than they used on Sunday night. Rookie Pat Elflein was taking first-team reps at center and Nick Easton lined up at right guard. Joe Berger was on the sidelines with helmet in hand. It’s possible the Vikings want to see one more combo before they make a final decision on the starting five linemen. The starting O-line struggled against the 49ers, giving up three sacks in the first quarter.

Zimmer might also want to build a little confidence in both groups. The starting offense has three points in 12 drives and the first-team defense allowed a quick 14 points against San Francisco.

It would be unusual in the NFL to see any team use starters for more than one or two drives in the fourth preseason game.

Playing time for veteran backups

We may have gotten an indication of some experienced players the Vikings plan on cutting during practice on Tuesday. Linebacker Emmanuel Lamur, defensive tackle Datone Jones and safety Anthony Harris all sat out practice. None of the three appeared to suffer injuries against the 49ers and each are on the roster bubble. The Vikings might hold the trio out to avoid having to keep them because of injury.

Lamur hasn’t been as effective as the Vikings hoped when they signed him prior to last season. He was a regular for the Bengals in 2014, but saw his playing time decrease in 2015.

Jones was an outside linebacker for the Packers last year, but was brought to Minnesota to switch to three-technique defensive tackle. The transition has not gone smoothly and rookie Jaleel Johnson has emerged as the more effective player during the preseason.

Harris has played a role in the Vikings’ secondary each of the last two years, but it’s possible that Antone Exum’s flexibility between safety and nickel corner will make him a more attractive option.

Receiver Jarius Wright has also been discussed as a possible camp casualty. He was on the field late into the game on Sunday night. He was practicing with the team Tuesday, but he may be playing for a job against the Dolphins.

Can rookie receivers seal the deal?

Rodney Adams and Stacy Coley, who were selected in the fifth and seventh rounds, respectively, have risen above the other depth wide receivers and appear to be in line for jobs on the 53-man roster. Adams has scored two touchdowns, both on screens in the red zone and Coley has created several explosive plays, including a 36-yard catch against the 49ers. They are likely to see a good deal of playing time on Thursday, giving both the chance to lock up a roster spot.

Who will get the most snaps at tight end?

The Vikings came to camp with a pretty unclear picture at tight end behind Kyle Rudolph. Going into the fourth preseason game, it appears that David Morgan and Kyle Carter are ahead of Bucky Hodges on the depth chart, but Hodges was used in a “big” situation at the end of the half against the 49ers. But Carter responded with a terrific touchdown catch.

Will the Vikings give Hodges as much experience toward the end of the game as possible or will they split up the reps evenly? If the sixth-rounder sees the field early, it could indicate that he’s done enough to not only make the team but possibly have a role in the offense. If he’s on the field in the fourth quarter, it would be an indicator that he’s still behind Carter.

How does the defensive backfield shape up?

Starters are set at corner and safety, but the backup jobs still seem to be up in the air. None of the player vying for a spot have much experience, so Jabari Price, Terrell Sinkfield, Tre Roberson and Horace Richardson are still trying to make their case to be the No. 5 corner. The Vikings have kept Price around despite him missing the entire 2016 season, which may put him in the driver’s seat for the last opening.

At safety, last year’s seventh-round pick Jayron Kearse has had his ups and downs and would like to show signs of progress in the final preseason game. We haven’t seen much of 2017 seventh-round pick Jack Tocho – he will likely get a lot of playing time against the Dolphins.

BONUS: Mitch Leidner

Yes, there’s a good chance we see former Gopher Mitch Leidner leading the Vikings. Gopher faithful may have wanted more from the Minnesota offense during his college years, but Thursday night’s game offers a nice opportunity for Leidner to show the other 31 teams that he belongs on a practice squad.

The post What to watch for in the Vikings’ preseason finale appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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