Well, we’re almost there.
We're halfway through the preseason. Unknowns are trying to make their best case to make the opening day roster. The starters are trying to maintain their health for the games that matter.
And the fans are counting the days until the opener. In their mind the regular season can’t come soon enough.
With that in mind, Minnesota’s coaches have already begun to assess who has what it takes to sport purple and gold on Sept. 9.
And so shall we.
*If you want another take on this issue, read the projection of Minnesota's final roster by Joe Oberle of CBS Sports (published Aug. 13) or the St. Paul Pioneer Press' depth chart update (published on Aug. 21).
Christian Ponder completed 10-of-13 passes for 136 yards with a touchdown in Week 2 of the preseason.
Three: Christian Ponder, Joe Webb, Sage Rosenfels
This is probably the most set position on Minnesota’s roster, especially given the set-in-stone nature of the position: teams across the league consistently carry just three quarterbacks.
Christian Ponder was Minnesota’s first-round pick in 2011 and is the franchise’s answer at the position for the near future. He’s taken all the first-team snaps in the preseason and has been inked in as Minnesota’s starter for Sept. 9 using a Sharpie.
Joe Webb and Sage Rosenfels will make the roster as the backup and third-string quarterback—with some external debate about in what order.
Some fans will still call for Webb to be Minnesota’s starting quarterback but no one inside of Minnesota’s organization is seriously giving that consideration. If the organization was smart it would get Webb involved at wide receiver, but that’s another outside talking point the coaching staff won’t invoke.
The health of Adrian Peterson will determine how many running backs Minnesota has on its roster on Sept. 9.
Three: Adrian Peterson, Toby Gerhart, Lex Hilliard
It will be interesting to see what Minnesota does at this position. How many players the Vikings opt to carry will tell us a lot about how the franchise feels about Adrian Peterson and his recovery from a torn ACL and MCL.
If the franchise is 100-percent comfortable with him and his knee at the end of the preseason then we’ll see three players on the roster from this position. If there are concerns about his knee then we’ll see four.
Toby Gerhart and Lex Hilliard have earned roster spots. Up until this point no other running back on the team’s preseason roster has warranted a roster spot. So at this point a fourth running back would only be given a spot because of health concerns for Peterson.
Rhett Ellison, Minnesota's fourth round pick in 2012, is able to play fullback, tight end and help on special teams. He has a roster spot with his name on it.
Two: Jerome Felton and Rhett Ellison
In Friday’s second preseason game against the Buffalo Bills we got to see Jerome Felton at work. It may have only been one-yard’s worth of work, but it resulted in six points and Minnesota’s first touchdown of the preseason.
Felton will be Minnesota’s primary fullback entering the 2012 campaign but don’t sleep on Rhett Ellison.
Ellison was Minnesota’s fourth-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft and has drawn comparisons to Jim Kleinsasser. He has the potential to be a strong blocker out of the backfield and provide stable hands with an opportunity to gain yards after the catch.
In addition to fullback, Ellison can play tight end and contribute on special teams. He has a roster spot with his name on it.
Devin Aromashodu's days as a Vikings are numbered.
Six: Percy Harvin, Jerome Simpson, Jarius Wright, Stephen Burton, Michael Jenkins, Emmanuel Arceneaux
Depending on how the franchise feels about Devin Aromashodu this could be a position with seven on the roster rather than six but at this point it’s unlikely that he will make the cut—this is coming from an Aromashodu supporter too.
Aromashodu was targeted six times against the Buffalo Bills in Week 2 of the preseason and walked away with zero receptions. Not every pass was well-thrown and indeed he may have been interfered with on a ball thrown to him in the corner of the end zone. Either way there were passes he should have caught but didn’t.
Aromashodu’s had his chances. Now it’s time for Emmanuel Arceneaux to get his.
Arceneaux signed with Minnesota in January 2011 after two seasons (36 games) with the B.C. Lions. He caught 130 passes for 1,972 yards and 12 touchdowns in the regular season and had 17 receptions for 269 yards in three postseason contests. He has good size (6’2” and 210 pounds) and reliable hands.
Burton has outperformed the likes of Michael Jenkins, Aromashodu and Jarius Wright. He could start alongside Percy Harvin to start the season.
He posted a 52-yard reception from Christian Ponder in Minnesota’s preseason opener against the San Francisco 49ers and caught two passes for 36 yards against the Buffalo Bills.
The health of John Carlson (above) will go a long way in determining how many tight ends Minnesota carries.
Three: John Carlson, Kyle Rudolph, Mickey Shuler
There’s a strong battle brewing between Mickey Shuler and Allen Reisner. Shuler is the better blocker while Reisner is the better receiver.
This pick will all come down to what the coaching staff needs. If it is worried about making plays downfield then Reisner will be on the roster. If the concern is blocking and springing running backs for big-gains then it’ll be Shuler.
What will also determine who makes the roster as a tight end will be the health of John Carlson, Minnesota’s big offseason acquisition. Carlson has been out since July 31 after injuring his knee in practice. He’s not expected to play in Minnesota’s third preseason game according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press but is still expected to play in the season opener.
If something changes and Carlson isn’t ready for the opener then expect Reisner and Shuler to be on the opening-day roster—otherwise one player is headed to Minnesota’s practice squad or to another team.
If Geoff Schwartz suffers a setback in his recovery from sports hernia surgery then DeMarcus Love or Quentin Saulsberry will benefit.
Eight: Matt Kalil, Charlie Johnson, John Sullivan, Brandon Fusco, Phil Loadholt, Joe Berger, Geoff Schwartz, Patrick Brown
The first seven names on this list are set-in-stone. They have made Minnesota’s roster and the first five are likely to be Minnesota’s starting offensive line on Sept. 9.
Joe Berger has the ability to play either guard position and center. He started seven games for Minnesota in 2011 and his knowledge of the offense makes him a valuable member of a unit that experienced much turnover in the offseason.
Geoff Schwartz is a player to watch as he recovers from his sports hernia surgery. The injury was suffered on Aug. 4, and his recovery time is projected at 4-6 weeks. He’s expected back in time for the opener but if he isn’t than one less lineman will be cut.
Patrick Brown by no means has a tight grasp on the final offensive lineman position. DeMarcus Love and Quentin Saulsberry are also in the mix.
Like Berger, Saulsberry can play center or guard but can also lineup at tackle. His flexibility is very attractive.
Love is currently battling a pectoral injury that is hindering his chances of making the squad. Depending on when he returns to action and how healthy he is he could be a real player for the final spot.
Brown has the edge because he was the only player of the three to get any game experience in 2011.
Everson Griffen is a player to keep an eye on. Minnesota moved him to linebacker to begin camp, but now he's back at defensive end.
Eight: Brian Robison, Kevin Williams, Letroy Guion, Jared Allen, Everson Griffen, Fred Evans, Christian Ballard and D'Aundre Reed
The first four names are Minnesota’s projected starting defensive line. Everson Griffen and Fred Evans are the top backups at defensive end and defensive tackle, respectively.
Keep an eye on Griffen. Minnesota moved him to outside linebacker at camp's commencement but has since moved him back to defensive end. Should there be trouble at the linebacker position Griffen could be moved back yet again.
Christian Ballard was Minnesota’s fourth-round pick (No. 106) in the 2011 NFL Draft. He has the ability to play defensive end, as it was his position at the University of Iowa, and defensive tackle given his size (6’4” and 283 pounds) and speed (ran a 4.8-second 40-yard dash at the 2011 NFL Combine).
D’Aundre Reed was Minnesota’s seventh-round pick in 2011 and is a physical specimen at the position (6’4” and 264 pounds). As this update from Rotoworld.com suggests, Reed is full of potential. He just needs a greater opportunity.
All eyes are on Jasper Brinkley as he tries to demonstrate that he should be Minnesota's middle linebacker.
Seven: Erin Henderson, Jasper Brinkley, Chad Greenway, Larry Dean, Marvin Mitchell, Audie Cole and Tyrone McKenzie
Erin Henderson and Chad Greenway are entrenched as Minnesota’s starting outside linebackers. The question remains about who will start in the middle of the two.
Jasper Brinkley is the most likely candidate. But he hasn’t run away with the job yet.
"One of the things we went into this game saying was we want him to get more reps because he has to get his timing down,” Frazier told 1500ESPN about Brinkley entering Week 2 of the preseason. “He has to get comfortable and he has to believe, 'I'm not going to get hurt. I can play fast and I can play hard.'"
Marvin Mitchell could slide to outside linebacker pushing Henderson inside if Brinkley falters.
Audie Cole has had a strong preseason with two interceptions returned for touchdowns against the Buffalo Bills. He was Minnesota’s seventh-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft and with his versatility (can play either linebacker position and contribute on special teams) combined with on-field performances should earn him a roster spot.
Larry Dean should make the team just for his ability to contribute on special teams.
Chris Cook will anchor a much deeper group of cornerbacks in 2012.
Six: Antoine Winfield, Chris Carr, Chris Cook, Josh Robinson, Marcus Sherels, Zack Bowman
The first four spots on the cornerback depth chart are set with Antoine Winfield, Chris Cook, Josh Robinson and Chris Carr (in no particular order).
The last two spots are up for grabs. Zack Bowman and Marcus Sherels are the two I give the edge to, because of Bowman’s NFL experience and the ability for Sherels to contribute on special teams and in the return game.
But Brandon Burton is very much in the mix and in the lead for a final spot according to some. Burton was Minnesota’s fifth-round pick in 2011 and played in 10 games last season—including one start.
Bowman was signed by Minnesota in the offseason after he played the first four seasons of his career with the Bears. He posted a career-best six interceptions and 66 tackles in 2009. He recorded a secondary-best four solo tackles in Minnesota’s Week 2 preseason game against Buffalo.
After this swat of Ryan Fitzpatrick's pass attempt in Week 2, many Vikings fans are buzzing about Harrison Smith.
Four: Mistral Raymond, Harrison Smith, Robert Blanton, Jamarca Sanford
The depth chart for the safety position became crystal clear after Week 2 of the preseason. Mistral Raymond and Harrison Smith will start. Jamarca Sanford and Robert Blanton (who could also play some cornerback) will back them up.
Smith was the 29th overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. It was just a matter of time before he was starting for a depleted secondary. He got the attention of all Vikings fans for the play he made on Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick on a blitz last Friday. He didn’t get to Fitzpatrick but was able to impressively swat the ball down.
Raymond was active near the line of scrimmage and past it. Many expected him to improve greatly after moving to safety in 2011 after playing cornerback during his collegiate years at South Florida. It appeared as if that would be the case after last Friday.
Sanford will make the roster for his ability to contribute on special teams.
Blanton will make the team for his versatility and his potential to contribute at safety or cornerback.
Blair Walsh has validated his sixth round selection and then some in the preseason.
Three: Cullen Loeffler (long snapper), Blair Walsh (kicker), Chris Kluwe (punter)
Minnesota finalized the special teams members of its roster when it cut kicker Ryan Longwell after drafting Blair Walsh in the 2012 NFL Draft, which was viewed by some as a grave risk entering 2012.
So far Walsh has looked like a steal in the sixth round. He's hit 7-of-8 field goals with his one miss coming from 49 yards out. And on kickoffs he's consistently booting the ball out of the end zone, which was something Longwell failed to do in 2011 even after kickoffs were moved up five yards.
Chris Kluwe enters his eighth year in the NFL. All eight have been spent with the Minnesota Vikings. He's had his good years and he's had his bad. But overall he's a reliable punter in the league.