Vikings vs. Texans Preview: 8 Things to Watch in the Preseason Finale

Nick McAndrews@@NickMcAndrewsCorrespondent IIISeptember 1, 2011

Vikings vs. Texans Preview: 8 Things to Watch in the Preseason Finale

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    The Minnesota Vikings close-out their preseason on Thursday against a much improved Houston Texans team.

    The Vikings have shown steady improvement through the preseason, but as we verge on week one of the regular season, there are still plenty of questions left unanswered.

    Hopefully, this preseason finale will be able to answer some of the questions surrounding the team.

    A match-up against a rising Texans team will be a great test for this organization who will look to have a strong start to the 2011 season.

    Here are eight things to watch in Thursday night's game.

Backup Quarterback Battle

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    Christian Ponder will get the start for the Vikings in Thursday's game, despite an unimpressive start to the preseason.

    My guess is that the Vikings coaching staff wants to assess Ponder's ability when playing with the first team. Though he hasn't performed that well up to this point, he may be able to impress when given a first team offensive line.

    Joe Webb has shown the ability to put points on the board and this has resulted in his No. 2 ranking in the Vikings depth chart at QB. The problem with Webb is that his ability to move the ball has come almost exclusively on the ground.

    If Webb wants to show that he can be a second-string QB in the NFL, he'll need to show that he can pass the ball as well - something he hasn't really done yet.

    Because it's the fourth preseason game, I don't see all of the starters, including Donovan McNabb, to play on Thursday night. This will give the two other QBs on the roster a chance to prove themselves one last time before the regular season.

Starting Offense Scoring Points

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    Bernard Berrian attempted to answer two questions with his touchdown reception in the opening drive of the Vikings preseason game against Dallas last week. Those questions would be: When is the Vikings starting offense actually going to score some points? and Will Bernard Berrian ever become the wide receiver he's paid to be?

    Unfortunately, for all parties involved, they will have to prove it on Thursday night.

    While many Vikings starters will likely be sidelined for the preseason finale, the question surrounding the offensive production remains an important one.

    At the same time, the target on Berrian's back hasn't gotten any smaller with his TD reception. He could not only be playing for a starting job, but a roster spot all together as the Vikings assess their situation at WR.

Battle for Roster Spots at Wide Receiver

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    Of all the uncertainty surrounding the Vikings personnel, the wide receivers are the most unpredictable.

    Percy Harvin, Michael Jenkins, and Bernard Berrian seem to be the only three with a guaranteed roster spot, but even Berrian could be shaky without production.

    Beyond those three are Devin Aromashodu, Greg Camarillo, Emmanuel Arceneaux, Jaymar Johnson, Juaquin Iglesias, and Stephen Burton. That means that there are six guys competing for two or maybe three spots, depending on how deep the coaching staff wants to be.

    The Vikings would like to hang on to Camarillo, but he hasn't shown anything since the Vikings traded for him in early 2010. They like that he is a veteran in a young receiving corps, but his lack of production just isn't worth keeping him around.

    Signing Aromashodu was a very low risk roster move for the Vikings this off-season. The former Bear only received a one-year contract with a pretty low salary. This means that if the Vikings decided not to go with Aromashodu for the regular season, they really wouldn't be losing much. Luckily, Aromashodu has shown flashes of ability this preseason, but it will be his job to get it done tonight if he absolutely wants to make the roster.

    Jaymar Johnson could have a real shot at making the roster for his ability on special teams, but if he doesn't produce on Thursday night, the Vikings might just look to another player for special teams duties to save roster space.

    I would really love to see Arceneaux make the roster because of the things he did in the CFL, but he really hasn't separated himself from the other receivers fighting for a job. If Arceneaux can come up big on Thursday night, he may have a real shot at making the roster, but otherwise, his fumble on the one-yard-line against Seattle may have already sealed his fate.

    Juaquin Iglesias has shown some nice things this preseason, but again, doesn't have much separation from the guys he's competing with. Iglesias is definitely in the mix, but I wouldn't be shocked to see him cut.

    Honestly, any of these guys could make the roster, it just comes down to who wants it bad enough and who shows that on Thursday Night. For some of these guys, it could be their last shot at making an NFL roster. That being said, look for some pretty stiff competition at WR on Thursday night.

Offensive Line vs. Texans Pass Rush

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    I think it's safe to say that the Vikings offensive line has been an area on concern since Matt Birk left the team. Injuries plagued the Vikings O-line in 2010 and hopefully will be better this season.

    After the Vikings let go of LT Bryant McKinnie, new LT Charlie Johnson has struggled to immediately jump into the starting role with a new scheme to learn before the regular season.

    Blown blocks from Johnson have resulted in Donovan McNabb on his back multiple times. This needs to get resolved before the regular season - especially before the Vikings play Julius Peppers and the Chicago Bears.

    On the other side of the line, the right guard position has really been open to whomever wants it. Anthony Herrera seems to be the front-runner, but Chris DeGeare still seems to be in the mix as well.

    The Houston Texans have a strong pass rush led by Mario Williams and J.J. Watt, so it will be interesting to see how the Vikings first team offensive line plays against a strong defense— something they haven't seen yet this preseason.

    The Vikings will probably cycle through several players to get one more shot at seeing how different guys play in different situations before roster cuts bring the team down to 53 men.

Cedric Griffin vs. Andre Johnson

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    Cedric Griffin's comeback from his two torn ACLs has been one of the Vikings' stories of the preseason. He has played well in a limited role so far and he might end up not even playing in tonight's game.

    However, if Griffin does play, he will likely match-up with Houston's star wideout Andre Johnson. Johnson uses his height and weight to overpower smaller corners. Griffin is not a small guy by any means but that doesn't mean he won't have his hands full with Johnson.

    Griffin might not even play as a precaution for Thursday's game, but if he does, it will be very interesting to see how he matches up with the League's best.

Battle for Roster Spots at Cornerback

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    Aside from wide receiver, the cornerback position has the most question surrounding the personnel.

    The clear starters are Cedric Griffin and Antoine Winfield. In nickel situations, Winfield goes into the slot and Chris Cook will be on the outside opposite Griffin. Beyond those three, however, its really hard to tell what guys will make the 53 man roster.

    The candidates include Marcus Sherels, Asher Allen, Brandon Burton, Cord Parks, Devon Torrence, and Tony Carter.

    I think Allen and Burton are definitely going to make the roster because of their speed and decent ability in coverage. Beyond that, the only guy I honestly see making the roster would be Marcus Sherels who probably earned himself a spot with a solid showing against Seattle, which included an interception returned 69 yards for a touchdown.

    Of course, nothing is certain at this point and the other guys fighting for a spot will have another chance to do so Thursday night.

    With the number of injuries in their secondary last season, I see the Vikings keeping six corners for the 53 man roster. Essentially there are three open spots for these six players to fight over. We should see a big battle at corner against Houston.

Backup Linebackers

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    The battle for the starting weak-side linebacker spot pretty much never happened because, really, the only player that didn't end up injured was Erin Henderson.

    This is great for Henderson, but not so great for the Vikings. I mean don't get me wrong, I've thought Erin was ready to start all off-season, its just the lack of competition at the position and the lack of depth that will end up hurting the Vikings.

    Vikings LB Jasper Brinkley will likely be placed on IR after having a recent hip surgery. Brinkley was Henderson's main competitor for the Will LB spot and E.J. Henderson's main back-up at the starting Mike LB spot.

    With injuries to Brinkley, Kenny Onatolu, and Larry Dean, Heath Farwell and Ross Homan will have their work cut out for them as back-ups.

    Another last minute change is that DE Everson Griffen will play linebacker on Thursday night so that the Vikings can see if his speed off the edge will make him a viable back-up as a LB as well as a DE. If he is versatile enough to have success as a LB, Griffen will show an incredible amount of value as a fourth round pick.

    Because of the injuries at LB, this position will be very interesting to watch. The backups will really have to step up on Thursday night if they want to make the roster.

Battle for Starting Free Safety Spot

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    Going into the preseason finale, this is arguably the only starting job that's still up for grabs.

    Husain Abdullah pretty much has the strong safety job locked up, leaving only free safety as a question for the starting secondary.

    Jamarca Sanford and Tyrell Johnson are the front-runners for the job, but don't count out rookie Mistral Raymond as a dark horse. Sanford has completely outplayed Johnson thus far, but the coaching staff doesn't seem to want to give up on Johnson, the former second round pick.

    I think this position will be decided in Thursday night's game, arguably making it the most interesting thing to watch in the game.


    Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoy the game!


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