MINNEAPOLIS -- Though Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer wouldn't reveal his starters at strong safety or middle linebacker when he was asked about them on Monday, the Vikings' unofficial depth chart would suggest little has changed at those two positions.

The Vikings listed Jasper Brinkley as their starting middle linebacker and Robert Blanton as their top strong safety before their Week 1 game against the St. Louis Rams, keeping both players in the same spots they occupied throughout the preseason.

Depth charts are worth about as much as the paper they're printed on, of course (and in this case, we're looking at an electronic version of the chart), but the listing at least suggests the Vikings haven't changed their thinking on the two positions since the end of the preseason.

Brinkley figures to come off the field in passing situations, and his strength against the run keeps him ahead of Audie Cole for now. And if Blanton can show the instincts in coverage that led the Vikings to put him in their first-team defense during organized team activities and minicamp, their safety concerns might be alleviated for now, especially against a Rams offense that could sputter with Shaun Hill replacing Sam Bradford at quarterbakc.

Simpson's absence and the WR mix

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
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MINNEAPOLIS -- While the Minnesota Vikings waited for the NFL to make a decision on whether or not to uphold Jerome Simpson's three-game suspension following a drunken driving arrest last November, they quietly were diversifying Simpson's role in their offense as part of a three-receiver package with a trio of interchangeable pieces.

[+] EnlargeJerome Simpson
AP Photo/Ric TapiaJerome Simpson has been seeing more time in the slot during the preseason.
The Vikings planned to move second-year receiver Cordarrelle Patterson around in their offense more this season, but it was actually Simpson for whom variety was going to be an adjustment. He caught just four of his 48 passes from the slot last year, according to ESPN Stats and Information, running only 58 of his 367 routes from there. Otherwise, Simpson was split wide, and most of the time he was split to the left, running more than half his routes from a traditional split end position.

During the preseason, though, the Vikings showed a newfound flexibility with their top three-receiver set (Simpson, Patterson and Greg Jennings). During their third preseason game in Kansas City, when the Vikings' starters played almost all of the first three quarters, they ran 18 plays out of three-receiver sets, displaying impressive variety in how they lined up their three wideouts. After a brief film review, here is how the night broke down for the three:

  • Patterson: 9 snaps split left, 6 split right, 2 slot left, 1 slot right.
  • Jennings: 2 snaps split left, 3 split right, 6 slot left, 7 slot right.
  • Simpson: 5 snaps split left, 3 split right, 3 slot left, 7 slot right.

Of the three, only Patterson spent 50 percent of the Vikings' three-receiver sets in the same spot. For the preseason as a whole, offensive coordinator Norv Turner avoided being pigeonholed with his personnel. Simpson ran 26.5 percent of his routes from the slot during the preseason, according to Pro Football Focus, and Patterson (at 26.0 percent) saw nearly the same percentage. Jennings got 58.7 percent of his routes in the slot, but the 30-year-old has done much of his work from there during his career. Now that Simpson has added slot receiver work to his game -- following the increased diversity Patterson saw late last season -- the Vikings have three players they can feel comfortable moving across the field.

With Simpson out for the first three games, though, what happens to the Vikings' three-receiver sets? Fortunately for the Vikings' receiver depth, their offense has two things working in its favor. First, Turner makes frequent use of two-tight end sets; the San Diego Chargers used more of them than all but one team while Turner was the head coach from 2007-12, and used the fewest three-receiver formations during that time. And second, the Vikings have another versatile wideout in third-year man Jarius Wright.

The 5-foot-11 Wright, who'd been cast as a slot receiver early in his rookie year, actually ran 192 of his 252 routes lined up wide last season, as Jennings and Patterson got more of the slot work. He caught 23 of his 26 passes lined up out wide, and clicked with quarterback Matt Cassel late in the season, catching 14 of his 26 passes from Cassel for 252 yards. Wright saw 30.7 percent of his routes from the slot during the preseason, and he's got plenty to prove in Year 3 as he tries to carve out a niche in the offense, so he should be ready and eager to fit into the Vikings' scheme while Simpson is out. The Vikings don't figure to use many four-receiver sets -- Turner's teams used them on just three snaps last season -- but if undrafted free agent Adam Thielen finds his way onto the field during Simpson's suspension, he'll be able to move around, too; he got 25.6 percent of his work in the slot during the preseason, according to Pro Football Focus.

The Vikings will get Simpson back for their fourth game of the season, and they'll have enough options independent of three-receiver sets that they should be able to survive without him. But if they're looking to continue the diversity they'd created with Simpson during the preseason, they should find ways to do it in his absence.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Coming off a 5-10-1 season, with a new coach, a well-traveled quarterback and a revamped defense, the Minnesota Vikings weren't likely to generate much preseason buzz. They've largely been picked to finish last in the NFC North in national preseason publications, ranked in the bottom third of the league in most power polls and given an over-under of six wins by the Las Vegas Hotel.

The first edition of ESPN's NFL Power Rankings isn't much kinder to the Vikings. They open the season ranked 26th in our poll, behind every other team in the NFC and eight spots behind the next team in the NFC North (the Detroit Lions).

I've heard from a number of Vikings fans who feel the team isn't getting enough attention for its efforts to upgrade the defense under new coach Mike Zimmer, its weapons on offense and its 4-0 preseason. Those are valid reasons for optimism, and the Vikings might provide more of them if they can weather a tough early schedule (for the record, I've got them going 7-9). In a national sense, though, the burden of proof is still on the Vikings to show they're deserving of more attention. Until then, gloomy preseason predictions are unfortunately part of the business -- and if the Vikings become a surprise playoff team, like they did two years ago, you'll all have plenty of fodder for I-told-you so speeches.
Welcome to Around the Horns, our daily look at what's happening on the Vikings beat:

Now that the regular season is upon us, we're bringing back Around the Horns, which will kick off each day on this blog as we look at Vikings coverage of note, both from ESPN and other outlets.

Speaking of coverage from other outlets, offensive tackle Matt Kalil got quite a bit of attention during the preseason, especially after Pro Football Focus highlighted his struggles following the Vikings' third preseason game in Kansas City. Coach Mike Zimmer gave an unprompted critique of the analytics website the following Monday, saying fans and writers needed to treat the site's postgame grades with a grain of salt, since no one outside the team knew exactly what a player's responsibilities were on a given play. Zimmer didn't mention Kalil specifically, but when offensive coordinator Norv Turner was asked about Kalil last week, he said "people who are trying to evaluate our tape and not knowing what we're doing, it just doesn't make any sense."

Turner said last week the Vikings intentionally were leaving Kalil one-on-one against speed rushers like Kansas City's Tamba Hali to see how he fared, and for his part, Kalil said on Monday he'd been experimenting with new pass sets, which wouldn't necessarily carry over into the regular season. "If you get beat, you get beat; that one doesn't work, and you work with something else," Kalil said. "That's what the preseason was for me. Even right now, I'm figuring some more stuff out. Come Sunday, I'll know exactly what I need to do."

Kalil's disappointing second season can be blamed partially on a knee injury that hampered his ability to deal with speed rushers, but he'll have plenty of incentive to get back to his Pro Bowl performance from his rookie season. Tyron Smith, Kalil's former teammate at USC who went to the Dallas Cowboys with the ninth pick in the draft the year before the Vikings took Kalil No. 4 overall, got an eight-year, $97 million extension from the Cowboys during the offseason. If Kalil can get himself back on track in Year 3, there's a lucrative payday waiting for him down the road.

In case you missed it on ESPN.com:
Best of the rest:

Minnesota Vikings game predictions

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
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ESPN.com Minnesota Vikings reporter Ben Goessling makes his game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.

Week 1: at St. Louis Rams

This is a tough opening for the Vikings' offense, against a talented Rams defense with a pass rush that could give the Vikings' offensive line trouble in the Edward Jones Dome. But with Sam Bradford out -- and former Vikings quarterback Shaun Hill likely to start in his place -- the Vikings should be able to grind out a victory in their opener. Prediction: Win


Week 2: New England Patriots

Facing Tom Brady at home, with just one week of regular-season film for Brady to study on their defense, the Vikings might have a shot to slow down the future Hall of Famer, a year after coach Mike Zimmer drew up a game plan that forced Brady into his worst game of the year against the Bengals. But it might be too much to ask the Vikings' current defense to rise to that level. Prediction: Loss


Week 3: at New Orleans Saints

A trip to the Superdome against one of the NFC's preseason favorites doesn't look like a particularly appetizing matchup for the Vikings. Drew Brees and his array of weapons will test the Vikings' secondary depth as much as any offense on the schedule this season. The Vikings might have to hope they're productive enough on offense to trade touchdowns with the Saints. Prediction: Loss


Week 4: Atlanta Falcons

The Vikings' pass defense will be tested again, but the Falcons' remade defense is also trying to rebound from an ugly season. At home, the Vikings will get a win to finish the first month of the season at .500. Prediction: Win


Week 5: at Green Bay Packers

The only prime-time game on the schedule comes on a Thursday night at Lambeau Field. The Vikings' last win here came in 2009, when they had Brett Favre at quarterback. They left with a tie in 2013, when Aaron Rodgers was hurt. Zimmer has beaten Rodgers twice, but if the quarterback is healthy, expecting a Vikings win on national TV at Lambeau is too much to ask. Prediction: Loss


Week 6: Detroit Lions

The Vikings have lost one home game to the Lions since 1997 and that came during a 3-13 season in 2011. With 10 days to rest before this one, the Vikings will claim their first NFC North victory under Zimmer. Prediction: Win


Week 7: at Buffalo Bills

This should be one of the more favorable road matchups on the Vikings' schedule, and against the league's 28th-ranked run defense from a year ago, Adrian Peterson will be able to find enough running room to help the Vikings get above .500. Prediction: Win


Week 8: at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

As the Vikings make their first of two trips to Florida, their old head coach will be waiting for them: Leslie Frazier is now the Buccaneers' defensive coordinator, presiding over a talented unit that could be one of the best in the NFC. That group will frustrate the Vikings' offense and help Frazier get the last laugh. Prediction: Loss


Week 9: Washington Redskins

The Vikings head into their bye week after facing the Redskins for the fifth consecutive year. Robert Griffin III, Alfred Morris and DeSean Jackson will give the Vikings' defense plenty to worry about, but the Vikings held on to beat the Redskins last year, and with a sturdier defense, they'll do it again. Prediction: Win


Week 11: at Chicago Bears

Minnesota's last win at Soldier Field came in 2007. Against a dangerous Bears offense -- and in Jared Allen's first matchup against his old team -- the Vikings' losing streak in Chicago doesn't figure to end. Keep an eye on cornerback Xavier Rhodes in this one -- the Vikings will mostly keep him on one side of the field, which could mean he'll have to match up against both Brandon Marshall (whom he controlled in a matchup last December) and Alshon Jeffery. Prediction: Loss


Week 12: Green Bay Packers

At this point in the season, the Vikings would be in need of a win to keep their playoff hopes alive. They haven't fared well in cold weather in recent years, and when they played the Packers on the same weekend last year, the temperature at kickoff at Lambeau Field was 19 degrees. Fans at TCF Bank Stadium will be in full throat for this one, but Rodgers and Eddie Lacy will hand the Vikings a difficult defeat. Prediction: Loss


Week 13: Carolina Panthers

The Vikings' slide continues here, against a Panthers team that sustained some losses in free agency but still has Cam Newton at quarterback and an impressive defense. A loss here would drop the Vikings to 5-7 and effectively put their playoff hopes on life support. Prediction: Loss


Week 14: New York Jets

It's hard to know which direction the Jets will go with Geno Smith at quarterback, but with the Vikings in need of a victory, they'll rattle the quarterback, take advantage of a leaky secondary and post their first outdoor December home victory since "The Miracle at the Met" in 1980. Prediction: Win


Week 15: at Detroit Lions

Another road loss in the division would doom the Vikings' playoff hopes, and it will come in a building where they've won just once since 2009. By this point in the season, if injuries have reduced the Vikings' secondary depth at all, it could be too much to withstand against Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and the rest of a dangerous Lions offense. Prediction: Loss


Week 16: at Miami Dolphins

If the Vikings are out of the playoffs at this point, the game could be a good opportunity to take a look at Teddy Bridgewater as the rookie returns to his hometown. In any case, the Vikings can get a win against a Dolphins team with a tough defense, but plenty of questions on offense, especially on the offensive line. Prediction: Win


Week 17: Chicago Bears

The Vikings will end their season at 7-9, with a home defeat against a Bears team that could have plenty to play for in Week 17. Allen's return to Minnesota as a member of the Bears should be emotional, but he'll be warmly received in a game where Bridgewater could get a chance to start at home and begin his case for the top job in 2015. If the Vikings establish an identity on defense and move closer to figuring out their quarterback situation, it'd be tough not to call this season a success. The guess here is they'll have taken steps in that direction by December. Prediction: Loss


Predicted Record: 7-9 

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The first time MarQueis Gray played at TCF Bank Stadium, he was a quarterback for the University of Minnesota. He ended his career with the Gophers as a wide receiver, and his next game at the stadium will presumably come as a tight end for the Minnesota Vikings as the next step in a career arc that's already doubled back on itself.

The Vikings claimed Gray off waivers Sunday, reuniting him with offensive coordinator Norv Turner after he spent the 2013 season with the Cleveland Browns. Gray was released Saturday and quickly drew the Vikings' interest because of his familiarity with Turner's system.

"I believe he had a big say so in me coming here," Gray said of Turner. "I believe he's trusting me a lot to be here. I've just got to make sure I do my part and uphold all the great things he's said about me."

Gray appeared in 12 games for the Browns last season, catching two passes and rushing six times but mostly working as a blocking tight end. That part of the game -- and the physical toll it exacts on his body -- remains the biggest adjustment after his time as a quarterback and receiver, he said.

"I've mainly tried to bulk up my strength. That's the main focus since I switched to tight end," he said. "I've been able to catch. It's just the blocking aspect I'm getting used to."

The Browns used at least two tight ends on 466 plays last year, according to ESPN Stats and Information. That was the fourth most in the league, and with Rhett Ellison the only other tight end on the Vikings' roster behind starter Kyle Rudolph, Gray could find work as an H-back if he proves able to handle the full scope of the offense. He got to work re-acclimating himself to Turner's offense after going through training camp with new Browns coordinator Kyle Shanahan and was still trying to brush up on it after a day of travel to the Twin Cities Sunday and about three hours of sleep Sunday night.

When Gray gets into the locker room for the Vikings' home opener Sept. 14, though, he shouldn't feel out of place at all.

"I probably thought (I'd be back) as an away opponent, not as a home (game)," he said. "I can't wait to be back on that field."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- After nearly four months of evaluation, a handful of injuries and the release of two veterans over the weekend, the Minnesota Vikings still apparently haven't settled on a starting safety opposite Harrison Smith -- at least not one coach Mike Zimmer was comfortable sharing on Monday.

"I don't know yet," Zimmer said when asked who will start next to Smith in the Vikings' regular-season opener against St. Louis on Sunday. "We'll see."

Robert Blanton has been atop the depth chart since the Vikings released their first one during training camp, and seems like the logical pick to start next to his former Notre Dame teammate. Blanton missed part of training camp with a hamstring injury, but came back before the Vikings' third preseason game against Kansas City and seems healthy now.

"He's a smart guy," Zimmer said. "Sometimes when you make the transition from corner to safety (as Blanton did), it takes those guys a while, but he's a smart guy. You have a little bit more athletic ability, usually."

Smith said he won't be affected in any major way by who starts next to him on Sunday, and was coy when asked if he knew who the starter would be. It seemed like Smith's partner might be 34-year-old Chris Crocker, who came out of retirement for a third consecutive year to play for Zimmer and started a pair of games next to Smith in training camp.

The Vikings, however, released Crocker on Saturday, along with Kurt Coleman, when they concluded they "had a lot of the same guys," as Zimmer put it.

However short his time was with the Vikings, though, Crocker helped Smith's development in the team's defense.

"He was like having a coach in the locker room, in the meeting room, on the field," Smith said. "In between plays, he'd say, 'Hey, Harry, watch out for this coming up here,' and he was right most of the time. Even though he was only here for a little bit, I learned a ton from that guy.

"Just having that time with Crocker was good. I kind of had Antoine (Winfield) to look to when I was a rookie, just to see how a pro prepares. I never really had a safety to look at who was an old, old guy -- I called him the 'old man' every day. He kind of showed me again what it was like to be a professional and to really understand the game."

Should the Vikings start Blanton on Sunday, his experience in coverage will likely be a big part of the reason he's got the job. The Vikings will put their safeties in man coverage much more often than they did in their old regime, and Blanton seemed to separate himself from competition during the team's OTAs and minicamp because of his coverage skills.

"It's going to be fun for us (safeties)," Smith said. "We get to do pretty much everything, all levels of the defense: down near the line, dropping down like linebackers, playing deep, covering man-to-man. We get to do pretty much everything."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Defensive tackle Linval Joseph, who was hit in the left calf by a stray bullet in an Aug. 9 nightclub shooting in Minneapolis, returned to practice for the first time since the shooting on Sunday, and was a full participant again on Monday as the Minnesota Vikings prepared for their season opener on Sunday.

Joseph had said last week that he would be ready for the start of the regular season, and his participation in practice on Monday would suggest he's still on track to play, as would the Vikings' decision to cut nose tackle Fred Evans and start the season with only rookie Shamar Stephen backing up Joseph.

Offensive tackle Phil Loadholt was also back at practice on Monday, nine days after bruising his ankle in a preseason game against Kansas City. Wide receivers Adam Thielen and Rodney Smith, as well as linebackers Anthony Barr and Gerald Hodges, also returned from injuries.

The Vikings were without fullback Zach Line and linebacker Brandon Watts at practice, and linebacker Michael Mauti left early. Tackle Mike Harris, whom the Vikings claimed off waivers on Sunday, was watching practice on Monday.

Of the players who missed practice, though, only Watts seemed at risk of missing Sunday's game as of Monday, Zimmer said.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Since the start of the Minnesota Vikings' organizational overhaul in 2011, when Rick Spielman put a greater emphasis on building through the draft, the team's roster has typically ranked among the league's youngest. The youth movement surged again this year, when the team let 33-year-old defensive tackle Kevin Williams and 32-year-old defensive end Jared Allen leave in free agency as it aimed to rebuild on defense.

Saturday's final roster cuts continued that process, as the Vikings cut 34-year-old safety Chris Crocker, 30-year-old defensive tackle Fred Evans and put 29-year-old safety Jamarca Sanford on injured reserve. At the end of it, the team's 53-man roster was the fifth-youngest in the league.

Philly.com examined the rosters of all 32 teams after Saturday's cuts and put the Vikings at an average age of 25.58 years, which was the third-youngest average age in the NFC. The Green Bay Packers were just behind the Vikings at 26.62 years, and the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks were next, with an average age of 26.65 years.

In 2013, the Vikings were only the league's 13th-youngest team, as they played with five starters (Allen, Williams, Brian Robison, Greg Jennings and Chad Greenway) who were at least 30. This year's team will have four opening-day starters in their 30s (Jennings, Robison, Greenway and Matt Cassel), but the roster is stocked with 23 players from the Vikings' last three drafts, and three undrafted free agents the Vikings signed before the 2013 season -- Adam Thielen, Rodney Smith and Zach Line.

Only eight players on the Vikings' roster are in their 30s, with long snapper Cullen Loeffler being the oldest at 33. Just three more -- center John Sullivan, linebacker Jasper Brinkley and running back Adrian Peterson -- will turn 30 in the next year.

A roster this young means the Vikings' coaching staff will have to mold players on the fly, but coach Mike Zimmer seems to revel in the opportunity to teach technique, especially on defense. In large part, he'll start with a roster he can shape according to his way of thinking. If it works, the Vikings will be able to grow with Zimmer over the next several years.
MINNEAPOLIS -- We'd talked earlier about the Vikings putting some pieces in place for their practice squad. That group is now almost complete.

The team officially announced the signings of running back Joe Banyard, wide receiver Kain Colter, tight end Chase Ford and tackle Mike Remmers to its practice squad, also announcing it had signed center Zac Kerin, wide receiver Donte Foster, cornerback Kendall James, defensive tackle Isame Faciane and defensive end Justin Trattou to the group. The Vikings' practice squad is at nine, and the final spot could be slotted for offensive lineman Austin Wentworth, whom the Vikings waived on Sunday; a league source said the team was hoping to add Wentworth to the practice squad if he made it through waivers. The Vikings also announced the release of linebacker Larry Dean, who had been a standout the last three seasons on special teams.

For now, though, the nine-man practice squad breaks down like this: one running back, two receivers, one tight end, two offensive linemen, two defensive linemen and one cornerback. All nine players went through training camp with the Vikings, and the team's decision to retain James means it still has control of all 10 players it selected in the May draft.

There could more roster moves coming in the next several days -- it wouldn't be surprising to see the Vikings add another safety after releasing Chris Crocker and Kurt Coleman on Saturday -- but apart from some minor tinkering, the Vikings' 2014 squad appears to be mostly in place.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings continued to tweak their roster on Sunday, reuniting offensive coordinator Norv Turner with two names from his past -- including one that should be familiar to football fans in Minnesota.

Former University of Minnesota quarterback MarQueis Gray, who played tight end for the Cleveland Browns last year while Turner was the offensive coordinator and was released by the team on Saturday, tweeted on Sunday he's joined the Vikings, who claimed him off waivers. The team also claimed former Chargers tackle Mike Harris off waivers, according to two league sources.

The moves address a pair of needs that stood out when the Vikings finalized their 53-man roster on Saturday; they only carried two tight ends, and while rookie lineman Austin Wentworth showed some potential as a swing tackle, it seemed the Vikings might look for a veteran there, like they did when they signed J'Marcus Webb at this time last year. They released Wentworth on Sunday, according to a league source, and had scheduled Harris a flight to the Twin Cities on Sunday for a physical.

The tackle missed all of last season with a broken ankle and broke his foot after returning from his ankle injury, meaning he didn't get a chance to prove himself during Chargers camp. He's fully recovered from his injuries, though, and his history with Turner made him a logical pickup for the Vikings.

According to league sources, the Vikings added tight end Chase Ford, wide receiver Kain Colter and running back Joe Banyard to their practice squad on Sunday, and planned to put Wentworth there, too, if he cleared waivers. The team also signed offensive tackle Mike Remmers to its practice squad, according to a tweet from Remmers’ agent, Brett Tessler.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings' roster is set at 53 players for now, although a NFL roster is always in some state of flux. That's important to remember with the Vikings' roster, particularly at a pair of positions where the team's depth suggests more roster moves could eventually be coming.

The Vikings kept just two tight ends on their roster, cutting Allen Reisner and Chase Ford (who'd missed all of training camp with a broken foot). They also purged their safety position after a open audition process for a starting spot opposite Harrison Smith, and now have just four safeties on the roster (Smith, Robert Blanton, Andrew Sendejo and rookie Antone Exum) after cutting Kurt Coleman and Chris Crocker and placing Jamarca Sanford on injured reserve.

While the Vikings didn't keep much depth at those positions, they stocked up at others, hang onto five running backs (Adrian Peterson, Matt Asiata, Jerick McKinnon, Jerome Felton and Zach Line) and keeping eight linebackers (Chad Greenway, Jasper Brinkley, Anthony Barr, Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges, Audie Cole, Larry Dean and Brandon Watts). They'll also keep five receivers, though another roster move could come once Jerome Simpson finishes a three-week suspension. The team also retained nine of its 10 picks from this year's draft, only letting go of cornerback Kendall James.

What's important to remember is the Vikings' 53-man roster isn't a finished product. It could change by tomorrow if the team is interested in some of the veterans now on the open market, and will certainly change throughout the 2014 season. For now, though, here's how it looks:

QUARTERBACKS (3)
RUNNING BACKS (5)
WIDE RECEIVERS (5)
TIGHT ENDS (2)
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)
LINEBACKERS (8)
DEFENSIVE BACKS (10)
SPECIALISTS (3)
Most significant move: When coach Mike Zimmer brought safety Chris Crocker out of retirement for the third consecutive year and the Minnesota Vikings signed him to a one-year deal during training camp, it seemed likely the 34-year-old would make the roster and could possibly win the starting safety job next to Harrison Smith. Crocker, however, didn't even make the roster out of training camp, as the Vikings slashed a number of veteran safeties from their roster. Crocker was cut, along with free-agent addition Kurt Coleman, and the Vikings put safety Jamarca Sanford on injured reserve after he injured his quadriceps on a special-teams play against Kansas City. That means, after a long audition at safety, the Vikings will head into the season with just four: Smith, Robert Blanton, Andrew Sendejo and rookie Antone Exum. Could another veteran pickup be on the way?

Show of faith in Joseph, Stephen: The Vikings' decision to release defensive tackle Fred Evans came as a bit of a surprise, considering the team re-signed Evans to a one-year, $1 million contract in March. But the move to let go of the veteran means the Vikings are confident in two things: that nose tackle Linval Joseph will be healthy for the start of the regular season after being hit in the leg by a stray bullet Aug. 9 in a Minneapolis nightclub and that seventh-round pick Shamar Stephen can handle significant work at defensive tackle. Stephen saw plenty of playing time at both the three-technique and nose tackle positions during camp, and defensive line coach Andre Patterson remarked the Vikings got a steal in the draft. The decision to keep him means the Vikings stuck with nine of the 10 players they drafted in May (cornerback Kendall James was the only player cut).

What's next: The Vikings will be able to assemble their 10-man practice squad Sunday; according to league sources, they're hoping to retain a number of the players they cut Saturday, such as wide receiver Kain Colter, tackle Mike Remmers and running back Joe Banyard. They'll begin practicing with their 53-man roster Monday, as they prepare for the regular-season opener against the St. Louis Rams.

Vikings moves: G Jeff Baca, DT Chase Baker, RB Joe Banyard, WR Kain Colter, S Kurt Coleman, S Chris Crocker, DT Fred Evans, DT Isame Faciane, TE Chase Ford, WR Donte Foster, CB Kendall James, LB Justin Jackson, C Zac Kerin, CB Julian Posey, TE Allen Reisner, T Mike Remmers,, T Antonio Richardson (placed on injured reserve), S Jamarca Sanford (placed on injured reserve), DE Justin Trattou, RB Dominique Williams, LB Mike Zimmer
Sanford
MINNEAPOLIS -- Safety Jamarca Sanford, who missed most of the Minnesota Vikings' offsesason program and preseason with a spate of injuries, will spend the season on injured reserve, according to a league source.

Sanford's latest injury, a quadriceps strain he sustained while playing special teams in the Vikings' third preseason game against Kansas City, didn't seem likely to keep him out for the entire season, but the move allows the Vikings to retain his rights for the 2014 season. Sanford will be a free agent after the season, but the Vikings could re-sign him, instead of letting him leave for another team sometime this season.

The team has also released defensive tackle Fred Evans, according to a league source, which bodes well for both Linval Joseph's health and rookie Shamar Stephen's chances of making the team.

Joseph, who was struck in the left calf by a stray bullet in a nightclub shooting on Aug. 9, said last week he will be ready for the Vikings' regular-season debut on Sept. 7. Vikings coaches had also spoken highly of Stephen, a seventh-round pick from Connecticut who had played both the nose and three-technique tackle positions during the preseason, and it seems unlikely the team would release Evans if it didn't expect Joseph to be ready and Stephen to be ready for significant playing time as a rookie.

The Vikings have to reduce their roster to 53 players by 4 p.m. ET/3 p.m. CT.
video

Christopher Harris analyzes Cordarrelle Patterson's draft value.

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