Vikings head to Buffalo before roster cuts

On the surface, the Minnesota Vikings preseason finale at Buffalo Thursday night is largely meaningless.

Most starters won’t play. A majority of players expected to make significant contributions for the Vikings this year will likely never get off the sidelines at Buffalo Thursday night. But for Mike Zimmer and the rest of the coaching staff, it’s their final chance to evaluate rookies and free agents that have been on the roster since mini camp and organized team activities.

For roughly 37 players, Thursday might be the final time they wear Vikings purple in a game situation. The team has to cut from 90 to 53 by Sunday. It’s their last chance to impress the coaching staff, and they’re not the only ones that will be paying attention.

“The truth is the whole league is watching these games. We need to get our work done and have this as part of the evaluation,” offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski said.

The harsh reality of the NFL is some players are going into the preseason finale knowing they are a long shot to make the 53-man roster. The other reality there, if they can make plays against the Bills, is a shot at the practice squad if there’s not space on the final roster.

All a player needs is a chance. Anything can happen over the course of an NFL season. Zimmer, now in his sixth season with the Vikings, faces the reality head-on that he has to deliver the message to some that they’re no longer with the team.

“It happens every year. A lot of good kids had an opportunity. If there’s a good thing about it, somebody else might pick them up. There’s a chance we’ll bring them back on the practice squad,” Zimmer said.

With 53 roster spots at stake, and far viewer with the Vikings having several veterans and few position battles in Training Camp, it’s a tough reality. A player may not do anything wrong in camp, and becomes the victim of a numbers game.

That’s largely the case on defense, where George Edwards has a majority of his starters back from last season. For the players that do play Thursday, he’s looking for them to take what they’ve learned on the practice field and apply it to the game.

They may not still be Vikings by the weekend, but another team could notice and make a phone call.

“We’re limited to the numbers that we can have, so our goal is if you’re not going to be here on the roster, hopefully somebody else will be able to see you progress and be able to pick you up,” Edwards said.

One area where plenty of questions still linger is with the specialists. Dan Bailey will likely be the extra point and field goal kicker Week 1. Who will hold for him? Who will do kickoffs? Who will punt? The Vikings have had punter Matt Wile and receiver Chad Beebe splitting reps at holder. The Vikings traded a 2020 pick to Baltimore for Kaare Vedvik, who has versatility with kicking, punting and holding.

Wile has been limited during camp with a cut on his finger, but Vedvik hasn’t done himself any favors lately. He missed two field goals on Saturday, prompting Zimmer to say his level of concern for the kicking situation was “high.”

Special teams coach Marwan Maalouf on Tuesday called Vedvik’s misses on Saturday “unacceptable.” He wouldn’t go far enough to call the situation with the specialists unstable.

“I don’t think it’s instability. There’s a lot of teams that are unsure of who their kicker is going to be or who their punter is going to be,” Maalouf said.

Things didn’t go much better for Vedvik at practice Tuesday. He finished 5-of-9 on field goals between two live sessions and an end-of-game situation. He started with a duck-hook miss left from 33 yards out outside before storms moved practice inside.

He had five kicks inside, and missed two of them, including one from 51 yards out to end a situational drill. A clearly frustrated Zimmer after practice said he has to have more patience with his kickers.

When asked what he wants to see from his specialists at Buffalo, Zimmer said, “I want to see it go through the yellow posts.”

The biggest thing for the coaches Thursday is seeing the players take what’s being stressed in practice and apply it in a game situation. It might take a player from on the verge of being cut to the practice squad, or to an opportunity with another team.