<
>

Vikings-Titans: An important night for several bubble players

Audie Cole went from competing for a starting job to needing a good performance to cement his place on the roster. Tom Dahlin/Getty Images

MINNEAPOLIS -- For at least a handful of players on the Minnesota Vikings' roster, Thursday's preseason game against the Tennessee Titans is a last chance to leave an impression on the team's decision-makers before Saturday's final roster cuts.

"Some of these things, you end up cutting some of these guys, it’s hard because they’re part of us," coach Mike Zimmer said. "We wish them the best and hope that things work out for them. I think we have a deeper football team this year than we did a year ago."

While a good chunk of the Vikings' roster seems settled -- and the team's 10-man practice squad could be built mostly from the 22 players who are released Saturday -- there's still something for a number of players to prove on Thursday night, either to secure a bigger role on the team or land a roster spot. Here's a look at several players who have something to gain from a strong showing on Thursday:

LB Audie Cole: He's become a bit of a forgotten man in the Vikings' middle linebacker derby, as the Vikings have given more playing time to Gerald Hodges and Eric Kendricks in the last two weeks. Cole looked like he had a chance to win the middle linebacker job early in training camp; he could stand to make a few plays on Thursday night.

TE Chase Ford: The Vikings' tight end depth puts Ford in a difficult spot, even though he caught 23 passes last season and has made a couple impressive catches in preseason games. He's struggled as a run blocker, which puts him at a disadvantage when the Vikings already have several tight ends who can handle that part of the job. A solid night in the running game, coupled with another big play or two, could convince the Vikings to keep Ford around as a fourth tight end.

DE Justin Trattou: Few players have pressured the quarterback as consistently as Trattou has in training camp, but with a pair of third-round picks (Scott Crichton and Danielle Hunter) figuring to be in the Vikings' defensive end rotation, it could help Trattou to make a few plays Thursday night, especially after he had a quiet night last Saturday in Dallas.

CB Josh Thomas: He's played well enough in the preseason that he could have a chance to claim one of the final cornerback spots, but he'll need to finish with another strong night in coverage. He hasn't been beaten for a completion longer than 11 yards in the preseason, and if he has another night where he's able to prevent his man from making many catches, he might be able to squeeze his way onto the roster.

S Antone Exum Jr.: The Vikings have continued to put Robert Blanton with the first-team defense, even though Blanton hasn't made many big plays and took a bad angle on Terrance Williams' 60-yard touchdown last week. But Exum missed time with a hamstring injury, and hasn't gotten a chance to build on the momentum he'd created with a couple takeaways in the first two games. Being reliable with his assignments and sturdy in coverage would do more for Exum in Zimmer's eyes than a couple big plays, and the second-year safety could use another large dose of playing time on Thursday night to leave a lasting impression.