Fringe players face final time to impress
Week 4 of preseason games in the NFL is a time for starters and premium prospects to rest, re-energize and recalibrate for the ensuing four-month grind, their places secure on the Vikings’ 53-man roster.
So much more is at stake for the undrafted drifters, anxious veterans and ambitious rookies battling for lower-rung jobs in Minnesota while showcasing skills for other teams backfilling their benches.
Life on the edge takes center stage during tonight’s exhibition finale against the Tennessee Titans in Nashville.
“It’s probably the most important preseason game there is,” said offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who has 15 years of head coaching experience on his resume.
“These young guys get a chance to go play and get to show what they’ve been working on, and every year it seems to me a guy in the fourth preseason game does something to distinguish himself and make a case for himself.”
The NFL’s 32 teams are mandated to cut down their rosters Saturday for the start of the regular season, leaving 22 players on the proverbial bubble in Minnesota.
Most will be outright released. A couple might be traded. A few might be reassigned to the practice squad, extending the audition. Others will be snatched out of the bargain bin by clubs shopping for plug-and-play solutions.
And several dreams will die.
“That’s what the NFL is. It’s very black and white,” said Vikings defensive end Justin Trattou, who knows the drill.
This is Trattou’s fourth season. He was acquired Week 6 in 2013. The New York Giants cut him after he played in their first five games. Coincidentally, the Vikings played the Giants in Week 7.
Trattou originally signed with the Giants in 2011 as a rookie free agent out of Florida.
“It’s a business,” said Trattou, who majored in sports management. “Sometimes you can play your best and do well enough and sometimes it’s still not good enough. For another team, it might be. I just focus on what I have to do personally and not worry about anything else.”
Julian Posey still is pictured wearing his Cleveland Browns jersey in his profile on the Vikings’ website. The third-year undrafted cornerback was claimed off waivers in June. His work on special teams might create an opportunity.
“Nobody exactly defines you as a person,” he said. “You have to inherit a strong self-belief in yourself and understand what you originally got into the business for, and there’s always a possibility of accomplishing that.”
Crunching the numbers is a fool’s errand, according to players who understand the politics of roster churn.
Versatility can be more of an asset than athleticism as position coaches lobby to retain their guys. Developing in-house talent most times takes priority over investing in another journeyman.
“If you do that, you’re going to end up on a sitcom or in a reality show,” veteran safety Kurt Coleman said about playing the numbers game. “It’s a whirlwind if you try to wrap your mind around it. You’ve got to control one thing, and that’s you getting better and fitting into this defense and perfecting things. That’s what I worry about.”
Among those fighting for survival this week are fourth-year tight end Allen Reisner and a couple of rookies, wide receiver Kain Colter and offensive tackle Antonio Richardson.
Chase Ford’s activation from the physically unable to perform list increases the pressure on Reisner, who caught a pair of touchdown passes in last week’s 30-12 victory at Kansas City.
“You can hope all you want. It doesn’t really matter because you’ve got to show you’re an asset to the team,” Reisner said. “That’s all they really want.”
What does first-year head coach Mike Zimmer want? To notice attack dogs seizing the moment instead of withering under the pressure.
“I’ve seen a lot of guys come in there and spit the bit because they really don’t want to run that day,” he said. “They’re more about not getting beat as opposed to beating the guy they’re up against.”
For bubble players, the preseason is a five-week horserace.
Who’s going home?
Cold truths that can sap the joy out of playing.
No question then why hopefuls like Posey keep coming back for more.
“Regardless what happens on the business side of it, when you’re out there with the fellas, that is your sanctuary and your peace of mind in life,” he said. “That’s why you continue to play.”
“I gave my best each moment. I wasn’t out there complaining,” Posey continued. “I wasn’t unfocused or speculating about what could happen. I just gave my best each moment. That’s the only way I can live.”
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