Vikings Roundup, 8/31: Zimmer Deliberating Stage or Sidelines for Starters

Posted Aug 31, 2015

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Vikings are set to conclude their preseason slate Thursday against the Titans in Nashville, but will first-teamers side-line dance from start to finish in Music City?

Head Coach Mike Zimmer said Monday his assessment of Saturday’s 28-14 win at Dallas included a “good job” on punt returns and kickoffs. Zimmer added the defense “did well with a lot of things” minus a “poor” 60-yard touchdown allowed and the offense “moved the ball pretty good.”

Does that mean he has he seen enough from starters in a game until the Sept. 14 season-opener on Monday Night Football?

“The guys that need to play will play, so whoever we deem needing to play are going to play,” Zimmer said.

Zimmer declined to state whether Teddy Bridgewater is in the category of needing to play. Bridgewater is 29-of-35 passing (82.9 percent) with one touchdown and no interceptions for a rating of 111.3. He’s taken some hits, like on a play Saturday night when he perfectly placed a long pass ahead of Mike Wallace for a 39-yard gain down the right sideline, but has suffered only one sack in limited action in the Vikings first four preseason games.

Zimmer also declined to state whether Gerald Hodges Jr. would start for the second straight game at middle linebacker. Hodges started at Dallas and was swapped for rookie Eric Kendricks when the Vikings went to their nickel package. Zimmer said he “thought they both did well.”

“Kendricks, he makes a bunch of plays, Hodges had four tackles in the number of plays that he was in,” Zimmer said. “We’ll take another look at it this week and see where it goes.”

Kendricks started against Oakland, and Audie Cole started the first two preseason games. The Vikings also have played Michael Mauti as a reserve at middle linebacker for a good bit of the preseason. (Feature: Cole, Mauti visit Extreme Sandbox).

Who’s starting may just be semantics at middle linebacker this season as the Vikings try to capitalize on what’s viewed as a deep position group.

“We’re trying to get the best players on the field the best time we can. We’ll try and use them to their best ability,” Zimmer said. “It really doesn’t matter to me who is playing, if it’s one guy plays all three downs or one guys plays one down, we’re just trying to get the correct match-ups, the best situation for us defensively.

“We rotate the defensive line, so I don’t know why it’s a big issue to rotate linebackers,” Zimmer continued. “If we have enough quality to do that, that’s important. We’re not going to rotate defensive linemen [if] we don’t feel like the guys we put in there are ready to go and vice versa for the linebackers.”

Tough cuts: The Vikings released 11 players Sunday, and Zimmer said multiple decisions were difficult because of the depth of the roster.

“Yesterday was a hard day, really. Joe Banyard is a terrific kid, he’s busted his rear end around here, he had some good runs last year,” Zimmer said. “A guy like Josh Kaddu, who a lot of you don’t know, he’s a guy that was on the practice squad last year, I mean just a great, great kid. Some of these things, you end up cutting some of these guys, it’s hard because they’re part of us. We wish them the best and hope that things work out for them.”

All teams must go from the training camp limit of 90 to 75 by Tuesday and from 75 to 53 on Sept. 5.

The Vikings went from 78 to 76 Monday when Eden Prairie native Carter Bykowski was placed on the waived/injured list and Josh Robinson was moved from the active/physically unable to perform to reserve/physically unable to perform list.

The change in designation for Robinson means he won’t count against the roster limitations but also will be ineligible to return to action before Week 6 of the regular season.

Confidence in corners: Robinson appeared in 16 games with five starts in 2014 and defended one of the outside cornerback spots opposite Xavier Rhodes in the nickel when starter Captain Munnerlyn slid inside to cover the slot.

This offseason, the Vikings added depth at the position by signing veteran Terence Newman and drafting Trae Waynes in the 11th overall spot.

“I think we have some talent at that position. I think other than the one throw that Amari Cooper caught on Newman, he’s been very solid,” Zimmer said. “Xavier has been solid. Waynes had his best game this last week. These guys all have a lot of ability in what we’re trying to do and what we’re trying to teach – the acceleration out of the breaks, getting in the right position, being able to play man-to-man, those things are all things that we like.”

Zimmer said Waynes was in good position and implementing proper technique throughout the Dallas game, saying it was “by far his best performance.”

Jersey changes: As mentioned in Monday’s Lunch Break, Hodges has changed his jersey nameplate to “Hodges Jr.” in honor of his father. Greg Hickman switched from 69 to 91.

Those weren’t the only changes Monday, as the offense flipped to white practice jerseys and the defense donned purple for the first time. The Vikings have their offense wear practice jerseys that match the color of the ones they’ll wear during the next game. Minnesota was designated the home team in the Hall of Fame Game, then hosted the next two games. The Vikings remained in purple in Dallas because of the Cowboys preference of wearing white jerseys in their home games.