The NFL pre-season is not nearly as informative a tool on a player's value to the team as is the regular season, but it is the yardstick by which players are measured for inclusion on the 53-man regular-season roster. After Saturday's performance, there are a handful of former bubble players who clearly have earned a spot on the team and a handful of formerly safe players that have earned their way off of the team.
Those who have earned a spot on the Vikings' 2010 roster include kick returner Darius Reynaud, fullback Ryan D'Imperio, quarterback Joe Webb, and receiver Greg Camarillo. Reynaud was impressive virtually every time he touched the ball on returns, D'Imperio played well on special teams and at fullback, Webb, yet again, showed a passing touch that has eluded Tarvaris Jackson, and Camarillo caught balls thrown to him, precisely what the Vikings expected of him.
Of all of the names listed above, the most eye-catching should be that of D'Imperio. That's because the Vikings are highly unlikely to retain two fullbacks, let alone three. With Naufahu Tahi and high draft pick Toby Gerhart on the roster, for D'Imperio to stick, he will have to do so either as a special teams' player--a possibility--or as the fullback. The latter would mean that Tahi and Gerhart, neither of whom are considered strong candidates for exclusive roles as special teams' players, would have to be released.
On paper, that's a difficult sell. The Vikings lusted after Gerhart, trading up to take him in the second round of this year's draft. Gerhart has rewarded the Vikings by playing like a free-agent rookie, nervous about his prospects of making the team. What Gerhart did in his time in the game on Saturday did nothing to conjure an alternative view and everything to rekindle memories of Jim Kleinsasser trying to navigate the Vikings' backfield--minus the blocking capabilities. It also raised the very obvious concern that Gerhart is not anywhere near a suitable replacement for Chester Taylor. Taylor is a halfback, Gerhart clearly is a fullback.
Take away the high draft pick and the dollars attached to the contract and D'Imperio, not Gerhart, makes the Vikings' team this year--assuming the choice is between those two players. In a third scenario, D'Imperio is a special teams' player, Albert Young is the third-down back, and Gerhart is placed on the practice squad.
Like Gerhart, other players previously deemed either essential or safe ought to have played their way off the roster on Saturday. Those players include Rhys Lloyd, Bernard Berrian, Tarvaris Jackson, and Javon Walker.
Lloyd was signed to be the Vikings version of Dallas' booming place-kicking specialist David Buehler. The plan was to have Lloyd kick balls out of the endzone and have Ryan Longwell focus on field goals.
That plan ought now officially to be scrapped. Not only has Lloyd not demonstrated an ability to kick into the endzone, his kickoffs have about the same hang time and depth as Longwell's. Certainly, there is little sense in adding a second kicker merely to replicate half of what the money kicker on the team already does, particularly given the decisions that the Vikings will need to make at other positions of depth.
While Lloyd failed to improve upon what we already know Longwell can do, Berrian and Walker failed even to live up to modest expectations for what is now arguably the Vikings' weakest, if most plentifully stocked, position. With a drop for a interception and an otherwise non-existent performance, Berrian has picked up essentially where he left off last season. For a receiver playing with Brett Favre, that's a difficult accomplishment. It's also one giving cause for release.
If possible, Walker was even worse than Berrian, looking both rigid and fragile and failing to accomplish anything despite the Vikings' clear early efforts to force feed him the ball. Walker, too, deserves his walking papers.
Finally, there is the on-going saga of who to keep at quarterback. Only utter stubborness would allow Childress either to release Webb or retain Jackson.
Despite the running commentary to the contrary--presumably motivated by the Vikings' desire to downplay Webb's clear skills--Webb has poise, touch, and an innate sense of pressure in the pocket, all skills that Jackson lacks. Jackson looks the rookie, Webb the experienced player capable of starting as early as next season.
If the Vikings truly are interested in moving ahead at the quarterback position, now is the time to admit past transgressions and revel in current, wise decisions. Jackson represents the former, Webb the latter. And a rotation of Favre, Sage Rosengels, and Webb should now be in play.
Up Next: Moneyball.