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Zimmer will use final preseason game to finalize Vikings starters

Minnesota Vikings linebacker Emmanuel Lamur (59) works in drills at the 2016 training camp at Minnesota State University in Mankato. Bruce Kluckhohn / USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — Starters usually don't play in the final preseason game, but that might not matter to Vikings coach Mike Zimmer.

Still steaming from a lackluster first half Sunday, Aug. 27 against San Francisco, Zimmer didn't rule out playing some starters Thursday against Miami at U.S. Bank Stadium.

"I've made up my mind, but I haven't told the team yet or anything like that," Zimmer said Tuesday. "I haven't told the coaches yet, either. After the other night, I feel like they should play, but we'll see."

Although the Vikings beat the 49ers 32-31 at U.S. Bank Stadium, they fell behind 14-0 while starters played the first half. In 12 preseason possessions, the Vikings' first-team offense has managed to score just three points, and quarterback Sam Bradford has been sacked five times.

Zimmer said he has settled on his starting offensive line but declined to reveal the lineup. In the battle to start at center between rookie Pat Elflein and Nick Easton, Zimmer told NBC sideline reporter Michele Tayofa at halftime Sunday he had made up his mind without naming the winner.

According to Pro Football Focus, Elflein had by far the better game against the 49ers, rated a 70.7 to Easton's 37.3.

Elflein got most of the first-team snaps in practice Tuesday while Easton played right guard in place of Joe Berger, who sat out team drills. Other first-teamers in practice were left tackle Riley Reiff, left guard Alex Boone and right tackle Mike Remmers.

The only position on defense that appears open is weak-side linebacker. Edmond Robinson started the first exhibition, Ben Gedeon the next two. Emmanuel Lamur also is in the mix, but he didn't practice Tuesday after leaving the 49ers game in the third quarter to be evaluated for a concussion.

"This will be a good week to get these guys in there one more time and finish the process," Zimmer said.

Zimmer didn't deny Gedeon might end be better suited as a middle linebacker.

"But we're just trying to get the guys in there that can play, and I figure if we're playing 30 percent base, it's a chance to get him in the game more," the coach said.

Competition continues between kickers Kai Forbath and Marshall Koehn, and punters Ryan Quigley and rookie Taylor Symmank. Jerick McKinnon might have nailed down the kick-returner job after an 108-yard touchdown return against the 49ers.

The Vikings must cut their roster from 90 to the regular-season limit of 53 by Saturday. And even if Zimmer does use some starters against the Dolphins, they don't figure to be in there long.

"(Thursday's game is) going to be extremely important," said rookie defensive end Tashawn Bower. "(Reserves are) going to have a lot more plays and we're not going to have as much rest. That's why you really need to stay in shape and do your assignments."

Roster decisions will be tough on the defensive line. Bower is in good shape but still might be competing with rookie Ifeadi Obdigndo at end. At tackle, Will Sutton and Datone Jones might be competing for a final roster spot.

The tight end is a battle worth watching. Rookie Bucky Hodges and Kyle Carter are vying for a third and possible final spot, although the Vikings might keep three tight ends behind starter Kyle Rudolph.

"A lot of starters are not going to play this week, so that gives a lot of opportunity for the young guys to step up and make plays like myself," Hodges said. "It's the last preseason game. I just want to showcase what I can do."

The Pioneer Press is a Forum News Service media partner.

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