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Vikings release four players, including Pope

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings signed veteran free agent Derrick Pope this offseason hoping he would provide depth at linebacker and contribute on special teams.

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings signed veteran free agent Derrick Pope this offseason hoping he would provide depth at linebacker and contribute on special teams.

Instead, Pope didn't survive the first cuts.

Pope was one of four players released Monday as the Vikings met Tuesday's deadline for a 75-man roster limit. The team also released offensive tackles Sean Dumford and Brock Pasteur and receiver Daniel Davis.

Pope was the most notable cut after signing a one-year contract as a free agent in March. After spending his first four seasons with the Miami Dolphins, including nine starts in 2007, Pope was expected to make a strong push to make the Vikings 53-man roster and perhaps even get meaningful playing time as a backup/special teams contributor.

But his departure is a sign the team feels good about the progress of its young linebackers, particularly undrafted rookie Erin Henderson and Rufus Alexander, who is returning from a knee injury that sidelined him for his rookie season.


"We felt like with the young guys that we do have, they're really coming along," defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. "We really wanted to be able to take a better look at them (Thursday at Dallas). It gives Derrick a chance maybe in this final week to catch on with another team and maybe get some playing time with another team. We felt like with the young guys we have we're going to get the answers that we need in the backup roles."

Frazier said Thursday's preseason finale at Dallas looms large for backups. Starters typically play limited minutes, if any at all, in the final preseason game anyway. Frazier said the Vikings coaching staff wants to take a long look at the backups before making final cuts this weekend.

"The evaluation process against Dallas is not typical just-roll-them-out-and-get-through-this-game," Frazier said. "There are some key spots up for availability for our football team. Both at linebacker and at safety. Critical spots. And we're taking a look to see if another defensive end or defensive tackle might step up as well. It's a big week for a lot of guys on our defense."

The competition for the backup linebacker spots is particularly interesting, because two guys who figured to make the team are no longer part of the mix. Heath Farwell suffered a season-ending knee injury in the preseason opener and now Pope is gone.

That opens the door a little wider for Alexander, second-year linebacker David Herron and a pair of undrafted rookies in Henderson and J Leman.

"Guys are looking at it as a job to provide for their families so of course (it's an important week)," Alexander said. "We get more opportunities. Another day to go out and showcase your talents and see what you can do, the way you perform and everything."

Frazier said Henderson's performance in camp has exceeded expectations. The younger brother of starting middle linebacker E.J., Erin leads the team in tackles through three preseason games and is playing on all four special-teams units.

"It's hard for a (undrafted) free agent to make your ballclub," Frazier said. "He's fighting for a roster spot. This next ballgame, without question, will determine whether he gets that roster spot." or not. But he's really performed at a high level for a guy who comes in as a free agent.


"We felt like he had some ability. It was just a matter of how he would assimilate into the professional level. He's done well. It has not been too big for him."

Alexander faced a different challenge. He has needed to show that he's fully recovered after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in a preseason game last year. He said his knee feels fine and his explosiveness is starting to return.

"He's so close to being the Rufus that we remember from a year ago when he first signed with us," Frazier said. "This will be a big game for him."

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