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Zimmer Explains Potential Factors for Upcoming Roster Decisions

EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings are less than two weeks from the start of the regular season.

Before hosting San Francisco on Sept. 9, however, Minnesota must wrap up the preseason at Tennessee on Thursday and then reduce its roster from 90 to 53 players by 3 p.m. (CT) Saturday.

Teams are then able to place waiver claims on any released players until 11 a.m. (CT) on Sept. 2.

After keeping so many pieces of a team that went 13-3 and won the NFC North in 2017, the Vikings don't have many roster spots available.

When Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer, who is entering his fifth season at the helm, spoke with media members Sunday before practice, a considerable amount of the discussion centered on the philosophy that Zimmer utilizes when making final roster decisions.

Some players who miss the roster cut could be signed to Minnesota's practice squad, which has a league-mandated max of 10 players. The downside, however, with releasing a player the team likes but doesn't have space for is that another team could entice said player with a spot on its 53-man roster or make a lucrative offer to join the practice squad.

The Vikings lured Kyle Sloter from the Broncos to initially join their practice squad last year. Sloter later was promoted to the active roster.

Zimmer has consistently stressed building a roster of smart, tough, physical players who love the game of football.

An extensive evaluation process that began in the spring will culminate with sometimes difficult but well-informed decisions. Here's a little more about the process:

1. Full body of work

In addition to up to four preseason contests, Vikings evaluators are able to reference practice film from the offseason program and training camp, including a pair of practices with the Jaguars.

Zimmer said the game tape "is probably a little more important" during evaluations, but he added that one great outing in a game likely isn't going to offset multiple bad practices. 

"The practice tape you see every day, you're making corrections, you're talking to the guys," Zimmer said. "But then the game is they go out there, their coach isn't telling them what to do, they're out there on their own and they're playing and trying to make plays.

"I don't get all caught up in, 'This guy had one good game, and he's had 10 crummy practices,' " Zimmer continued. "That doesn't really help. You just hope that he continues to get better. If everyone is pretty much doing the same, then you look at the games and see where that takes them."

2. Intelligence can be a factor

Zimmer was asked where intelligence is rated in terms of making decisions about players on the "fringe" of a roster spot and said "high."

"We want intelligent players," Zimmer said. "Obviously, good players, but I think if it comes down to it and one guy is not smart and one guy is, we'll probably go with the smart guy."

3. Input from veterans

Zimmer said he does speak with veterans whose roster spots are in place, but those conversations don't "swing whether they make the team or not."

"Typically if you've got a bunch of good guys in the locker room, these young guys will fall in," Zimmer said. "We try to do a really good job of bringing the right type of guy in so we don't have those types of issues. If we have those issues, we try to get rid of them." 

To practice squad or not

As for rounding out the practice squad, Zimmer was asked if the potential ceiling of a player can be a determining criterion or if the decision is more about filling scout team needs to have the best practices.

"Sometimes it's where do we see this guy in a year from now or we just need another tight end because we don't have enough to practice with," Zimmer said. "It's a little bit of both. What you prefer to do is to keep the guys with the high ceilings, as you call it, but sometimes you only kept four defensive ends. We need to have another one there, so that's part of it, too. Some of them get poached, too."