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The Skinny Post: Vikings Have Last Chance to Impress in Preseason Finale

EAGAN, Minn. — The regular season, and the 53-man roster, are on the horizon.

But first, there is one final preseason game to play.

The Vikings will play their 2019 exhibition finale tonight in Buffalo, with kickoff at 6 p.m. (CT).

Both teams are 3-0 this preseason.

Here are three areas to watch in tonight's contest, plus some noteworthy stats on both teams:

The linebackers | By @Eric_L_Smith

There might not be a deeper position group on the roster than linebacker, an area Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer mentioned earlier this month as a spot where as many as seven players could make the 53-man roster.

We'll find out this weekend exactly how many players make it, but the linebackers will be among the most intriguing spots to watch Thursday.

Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks and Ben Gedeon likely won't play. And while Eric Wilson might suit up, he could see a quick exit given the fact Zimmer is looking for new ways to utilize him in 2019.

The real interest is in the spots after that quartet, as there are five linebackers aiming for a handful of spots.

Kentrell Brothers has been with Minnesota since 2016, playing mostly on special teams, and Devante Downs was a 2018 seventh-round pick who played in 11 games as a rookie.

Cam Smith is the only rookie in the group; he was a fifth-round pick in April. Reshard Cliett spent the 2018 season on the practice squad, Greer Martini previously spent the 2018 offseason in Green Bay and part of the season on the Packers practice squad.

Keep an eye on special teams Thursday, as that could be a way for a linebacker or two to earn roster spots.

View images as the Vikings travel to Buffalo in advance of Thursday's preseason game vs. the Bills.

Solidifying special teams roles | By @LindseyMNSports

The Vikings have one more dress rehearsal before the final 53-man roster is determined Saturday.

Vikings coaches will have a number of decisions to make, including how special teams positions will shake out. In addition to deciding on the returners for punt and kickoff, specialist roles have yet to be solidified.

As a refresher, the long snapper is set in stone with rookie Austin Cutting, but the Vikings recently traded to acquire punter/kicker Kaare Vedvik, who joins kicker Dan Bailey and punter Matt Wile. Minnesota also has been rotating between Wile and Chad Beebe at holder. Vedvik took all of the reps at kicker during Tuesday's practice and was successful on five of nine field goal attempts.

Asked about how specialist responsibilities will be divvied up at Buffalo, Special Teams Coordinator Marwan Maalouf told Twin Cities media members on Tuesday that Vedvik and Bailey both are slotted to participate in tonight's game.

"It just depends on the reps, that's going to be the biggest thing. So both of them are going to have the opportunity, both of them will go through pregame, and we'll get them ready," Maalouf said. "Usually it's by half. It depends on if we have six field goal attempts the first half, then we'll definitely make the change. … But we know what Dan can do. He's got a very good body of work that he's had, and I think it's important to get Kaare some reps and Dan. The season is coming pretty quickly, so they both have to be ready."

Final impression | By @pcraigers

It's been said that one never gets a second chance to make a first impression. The same can be true of making a final impression as cuts loom.

To be clear, the Vikings coaches and personnel department have hours of evaluations on each player on Minnesota's roster. Many of those assessments have occurred behind the scenes and are aggregated, but what about when the popcorn is popping?

Starters are unlikely to play, evidenced by Zimmer's decision to run split-squad practices this week, which frees up more game snaps for players.

The will have opportunities to show what they've learned in the Vikings offseason program, OTAs and training camp, and they can put good plays on film for other teams.

Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefankski said he is looking forward to seeing the younger players in action.

"I think over the years you've seen guys that have really performed well in this game [make the team], which is great," Stefanski said. "[The younger players] haven't maybe gotten a ton of reps in these games, but I've seen where guys have really had a great performance. The truth is the whole league is watching these games. It's not like we're not looking forward to seeing these guys work. We need to get our work done, and we need to have this as part of the evaluation."

Substantial Stats

— The Vikings have gone undefeated in eight preseasons in team history (1964-65, 1973, 1992, 1998, 2001, 2014 and 2016).

— Minnesota has not allowed an offensive touchdown in two consecutive preseason games.

— The Vikings lead the NFL with 537 rushing yards and 5.7 yards per carry in preseason play.

— Fullback Khari Blasingame is the only player in the NFL to score in every preseason game his team has played.

Quotable

"Yeah, it happens every year. A lot of good kids that have an opportunity. The good thing about it, I mean, if there is a good thing about it, is that somebody else might pick them up, there's a chance we might bring them back on the practice squad. If they keep working, like I said the other day, a lot of these guys, they might not be ready their rookie year, but if they stick with it and they're smart guys and they work hard, then the second year they come back and do a little bit better, and then the third year, and maybe some of them end up in the XFL."

— Zimmer on making tough roster decisions

Looking ahead

Minnesota opens the 2019 regular season at home against Atlanta on Sept. 8. Kickoff is at noon (CT).

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