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Monday Morning Mailbag: Questions Remain As Regular Season Looms

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I love my Vikings and that will never change, but what I saw against the 49ers should be a wake-up call for our players. We are not playing up to what we could be. -- John McGuire Lone Pine, CA

Of all the emails and tweets I received from fans who are concerned with what they’ve seen this preseason from the starters, this one, even in its simple form, sums it up well. Sunday night’s performance against the 49ers is not cause for panic. But it was also not up to the expectations head coach Mike Zimmer has for this team, and he can use the evaluation of the tape to serve notice of that. From personnel acquisitions to the way they’ve practiced through training camp and the first two preseason games, the Vikings have made progress in a lot of areas. That progress was not on display Sunday night, however, and now it’s incumbent on the team to correct errors and be ready to fire on all cylinders come September 11.

I thought the O-Line that started the game looked mediocre but that things changed pretty dramatically when Easton slid over to guard, Elflein came in at center & Rashod Hill took over at LT. What stood out to you about that unit? -- Gary Gross St. Cloud, MN

That’s a fair assessment of how things unfolded on Sunday night. What stands out to me about that observation is the group that seemed to calm things down on Sunday night is also the group that looked so good playing together with the first team in Seattle, when Dalvin Cook ran for 40 yards on seven carries and Kyle Rudolph wasn’t sacked. This is also a group that has practiced a lot together, whereas the starting group from Sunday night has not been able to work as much together because of injuries to left guard Pat Elflein and left tackle Riley Reiff. Clearly, the Vikings will have one or two linemen listed second on the depth chart who have the capability to be starters, so barring anything happening between now and Week 1, the Vikings should have depth along the offensive line. The key now is for the team to identify who the starting five are going to be and then to have that group practice together to continue working on their synergy.

This year the Vikings clearly seem to have more guys capable of making a NFL team at certain positions than they can keep on the 53-man roster, even taking into account practice squad options. Do you think GM Rick Spielman is attempting and/or likely to make any deals to turn some of this excess talent, especially at defensive line, into picks for next year or upgrades at other positions? -- Steve Greff Colorado

This is always something teams look at doing when it comes time to cutdown the roster to 53 players. It’s a tough balance to draw – keep the depth you’ve built up in case injuries come or use depth to gain picks or improve other parts of the roster. The Vikings have made deals at this time of year in the past, but there’s no way to predict what they’ll do this year because much of it is dependent on what other teams are looking to do and/or willing to give up for a quality player that might not make the cut here. There’s no doubt the defensive line is one of the most talented and deepest areas of the Vikings roster, so that is one area to monitor when it comes to roster reduction day (September 2).

Why did the NFL change to just one cut from 90 to 53 as opposed to the former way of going from 90 to 75 after the third preseason game and then 75 to 53 after the last preseason game? -- Rey Johnson

This is a win-win for the players and the teams. In the past, each team had to cut 15 players this week before they played their fourth and final preseason game, giving those players one less opportunity to earn a spot on their team’s roster or another team’s roster and also forcing teams to play more players in the fourth preseason game who will make the 53-man roster. With the new process of just one cut, teams can keep many of the players they know will make the team off the field and away from injury exposure and then players who are likely to be cut by their teams have one more chance to put quality tape out there to impress another team who may want to sign them when they are released by their current team.

An Achilles heel of this squad a year ago was the run defense. Do you feel the personnel changes made in the offseason to this unit were adequate enough to address the problem and will we notice a major improvement from a year ago? -- Brad Roberts Manito, Illinois

What encourages me about the Vikings chances of being better against the run in 2017 than they were in 2016 is not just about personnel changes. There were several games last season in which the Vikings were solid against the run, then there were games in which they gave up too many yards. The Vikings held Carolina, Houston and Tennessee – all top 10 rushing offenses – to outputs below their season averages, as an example. That tells me it’s not a matter of personnel; it’s execution. If it was the function of incapable personnel, every game would’ve been bad against the run, and that just wasn’t the case.

Ben Gedeon gets the name recognition, but I feel Anthony Harris has been absolutely flying to the ball, seems a lot quicker and is in on more plays. This race seem tight. And where is Kentrell Brothers in all this? -- Chris Stewart

The competition for linebacker roster spots and playing time is tight. Obviously the Vikings are set with Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks as the main two ‘backers, but after that there’s a healthy competition for spots and snaps. Gedeon has been getting a lot of reps with the first team, but Zimmer hasn’t declared him a starter so that means Emmanuel Lamur and Robinson are still in the mix. Brothers seems to fit better as an inside linebacker, so him being the starter at outside linebacker seems less likely at this point. The good news about this position is all of those linebackers competing for spots and snaps are solid on special teams, plus undrafted rookie Eric Wilson adds depth to the group, as well.

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