MINNEAPOLIS — Jayron Kearse got his hands on the football.
Now, he's hoping to take hold of a roster spot with the Vikings.
The seventh-round pick recovered a fumble while covering a punt to sway momentum toward the Vikings in the second quarter and forced a fumble by Rams returner Paul McRoberts in the fourth quarter.
The forced fumble set up a field goal by Blair Walsh to put the Vikings on the board, and the forced fumble set up Minnesota at the Los Angeles 6-yard line, putting the Vikings on the doorstep and into the end zone with three straight runs by C.J. Ham.
The Vikings led by 17 with 11:37 left in the game and held on for a 27-25 win on Thursday in the first night game at U.S. Bank Stadium that set another home-crowd franchise attendance record (66,262).
"It's always good when you get turnovers," Kearse said. "If I can get the offense the ball, in good field position, then we're definitely most likely going to get points with the guys we have on offense. Turnovers are definitely big for this team and every other team in football, whether it's college or the NFL. I just pride myself in getting my hands on the ball some way somehow."
Kearse and Anthony Harris started at safety as Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer turned to young players for the preseason finale. The average age of the starters on defense was 24.18, which was elevated by 28-year-old defensive linemen Justin Trattou and Kenrick Ellis.
Zimmer didn't like the way the defense opened by allowing a seven-play, 62-yard drive that ended with a 1-yard touchdown pass from rookie Jared Goff to veteran Kenny Britt.
"That first series I didn't see much improvement, but after that, I thought he did all right," Zimmer said. "I like him. I think he's a kid that, it's important to him. He tries real hard. He was out of place a couple of times in that first drive. I'm like, 'Where has this guy gone?'
"We were like that a little bit defensively in that first drive anyway, like, 'What are those guys doing?,' " Zimmer added. "It shocked me, but he's a big-bodied guy that has some range, he's worked exceptionally hard on his acceleration out of the break, so I think there's some good things there to work with."
Captain Munnerlyn watched from the sidelines with Vikings first-teamers and some second-teamers. Although Munnerlyn is an alum of South Carolina, he liked the effort turned in by Kearse, a Clemson alum.
"He had a big night. I don't like talking about them Clemson guys, but he definitely had a big night and made some plays, flew around," Munnerlyn said. "He's a big guy, a big human being. It seems like he's always around the ball. He's always making plays and he's a young guy. That's always a good thing to find yourself around the ball already. He's a guy that listens and wants to be great. That's the key to that guy."
Kearse was credited with eight tackles and a tackle for loss on defense by press box statisticians. He also posted interceptions at Cincinnati and against San Diego this preseason, but special teams could be his way to the field if he secures a roster spot — and that would be just fine with him because it's an opportunity to continue to earn respect.
"You never know what your role is with the team," Kearse said. "I might be a special teams player this year and not play much defense, but I have to go attack it that way, attack my special teams role or whatever it may be with full force."
View images from the first night game at U.S. Bank Stadium as the Vikings took on the Rams.