MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — With the regular season opener just over a week away, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson still doesn’t know who is going to be protecting him on the right side of the offensive line.
Four players are vying for two openings at right guard and right tackle, and tonight’s preseason finale against the Dallas Cowboys could go a long way toward deciding the race.
“I am not ready to crown anybody king at that position and say this is going to be the starter in our first game,” coach Brad Childress said earlier this week.
Anthony Herrera and Artis Hicks have been swapping out at right guard, with Ryan Cook and Marcus Johnson competing for the right tackle job.
The Cowboys have some decisions to make themselves after a sloppy performance last week against Houston. New coach Wade Phillips is looking for another cornerback because Terence Newman’s bad foot could limit him this season, especially early.
Dallas also has a question at kicker. Incumbent Martin Gramatica was not expected to make the trip to Minneapolis because of a strained hamstring. Gramatica missed an extra point against Houston, but rookie Nick Folk has been perfect in the preseason, including a 52-yard field goal.
“I am worried about our roster overall — who fits where and who our best players are,” Phillips said. “Really, the only way to tell is to play.”
Childress would appear to have the bigger issue, with decisions to make on the entire side of what has been an unbalanced line. The left side is solid with Pro Bowl guard Steve Hutchinson and tackle Bryant McKinnie, once considered an emerging star who is looking to rebound from a so-so first season under Childress.
But Hicks and Cook, who finished last season as the starters on the right side of center Matt Birk, have struggled to hold up their end.
“I have no say-so on the outcome,” said Hicks, who has looked overmatched at times. “I just try and go out and do my job.”
Cook has had a hard time with false starts, drawing the ire of a coaching staff that has made reducing penalties one of the top priorities of the new season.
“Ryan Cook knows he can’t have two false starts,” offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. “You go from a third-and-4 to a third-and-9 and you miss the conversion by one yard. Those are things that can’t happen and he knows that. He is learning that, as well as anybody else who steps in there.”
Childress plans to play his starters for the first series only on Thursday night. But Cook, Johnson, Herrera and Hicks will get plenty of work. The coach said their performances against the Cowboys will not be the sole basis for his decision, but it’s clear there is a lot on the line.
“Competition is not always a bad thing because it brings the best out of those guys, so I wouldn’t characterize it other than it’s a competition,” Childress said.
There’s plenty of that in the Cowboys’ secondary right now. Newman has a partially torn plantar fascia, a painful injury that he said he expects to linger throughout the season.
With Newman hurting, Phillips sorely needs another cornerback to emerge. Anthony Henry becomes the No. 1 guy by default, but will need help from veteran Aaron Glenn and the rest of his group to slow down opposing offenses.
“Any time you’re missing a top-notch caliber player of that magnitude, it definitely affects you,” Glenn said. “It affects how you do things.”
Jacques Reeves, Nate Jones, Joey Thomas, Alan Ball and Quincy Butler failed to answer Phillips’ call for help in a 28-16 loss to the Texans.
“That’s the problem going into the fourth preseason game — who to play and how long to play them,” Phillips said. “Really, in our situation, there’s a lot of evaluation. We’re going to need to look at a lot of players to give them a fair chance.”
NFL Preseason Schedule
Buffalo at Detroit, 6 p.m.
New York Jets at Philadelphia, 6:30 p.m.
New York Giants at New England, 6:30 p.m.
Washington at Jacksonville, 6:30 p.m.
Cleveland at Chicago, 7 p.m.
Green Bay at Tennessee, 7 p.m.
Dallas at Minnesota, 7 p.m.
Houston at Tampa Bay, 7 p.m.
Miami at New Orleans, 7 p.m.
Kansas City at St. Louis, 7 p.m.
Pittsburgh at Carolina, 7 p.m.
Arizona at Denver, 8 p.m.
Oakland at Seattle, 9 p.m.
San Francisco at San Diego, 9 p.m.
Indianapolis at Cincinnati, 6:30 p.m.
Baltimore at Atlanta, 6:30 p.m.