Most football fans only watch about one and a half quarters of a pre-season game. That part where the popular names on the team get to play. Its a chance to watch our 1st string against another teams 1st string. But that is not the important thing to watch.
There are two special situations to watch for during the game. The first is getting to see if the 2nd string players from last year have improved. These players have already experienced the speed of the pro game. They have struggled to learn an offensive or defensive scheme. Now is their chance to shine. They will be thrown in with the 1st stringers from time to time. They will be expected to be the leaders when they are with the 2nd or 3rd units during a pre-season game. So watch to see if these players are as effective as the 1st string starters. They should not be making mistakes and once in a while they should make an exceptional play. If they do get beat or make an error then it probably means they are not improving as one would hope.
The second area to watch is whether the rookies are getting it at all. In mini-camp they basically played against other rookies in a non-contact environment. Now they will be tested against unfamiliar NFL talent. In last weeks game of Dallas v. Cincinnati there was a perfect example. Dallas rookie FB Chris Gronkowski was inserted for a running play. He totally missed his block and then turned completely around and watched his man pancake the QB. He just didn't get it. In my opinion he probably never will. If a fullback can't make contact on a lead block then the game might be to fast for him. This is what the pre-season is all about.
Who are some of the Viking players in this situation? Lets take a look.
Center: Jon Cooper. This undrafted free agent was on the practice squad last year. Now he is the only center to back up last years starter John Sullivan. Sullivan has had a slight leg injury so watch for Mr. Cooper to have a lot of snaps. Another question is "Who fills in for Mr. Cooper"?
Offensive tackle: The battle royal. Who will back up our tackles? This is the most intriguing question of the preseason. Many fans don't appreciate Bryant McKinney's talents. They would if he were gone. But age is creeping up on him. Is there an adequate replacement already on the bench? 4-year player Ryan Cook has never cracked the big time. Can Drew Radovich or Cris Clark or Patrick Brown all from the practice squad show that they can replace an all pro tackle? Watch carefully to see who is protecting the QB from the blind side. If no one steps up then you can start penciling in a high OT draft pick for next years draft.
Running back: I suspect this is already decided. Toby Gerhart has been getting hammered during training camp. But he will get numerous chances to show that he is getting better. Of course he might find the going a little easier since he doesn't have to run into Pat Williams on Saturday. The surprise of camp has been the ever resilient Albert Young. Did he learn enough from Chester Taylor to be a dangerous third down back. Ian Johnson has shown some flash, according to reports. Does he have that little extra spark needed to be an NFL star? Watch carefully.
And is there a place for Darius Reynaud? He was the punt returner. He was a wide receiver. Now he is asked to be a RB. He use to run the plays designed for Percy Harvin. Is he out? Can he perform well? I can't wait to see him in action.
Cornerback: Second year player, Asher Allen has not disappointed this training camp. A second round draft pick in 2009 he was drafted to be a starter. Is he ready to make that second year leap. At 5'10" tall he now has to battle rookie 6' 2" Chris Cook who has played well in training camp. But is Cook ready for the big time? Both will be fought hard by a new Viking, but veteran player, Lito Sheppard. I expect these three to play a lot alongside Benny Sapp. To watch the new guys play alongside a 6 year veteran should be a good comparison.
Defensive end: How much talent can one team have. Jared Allen and Ray Edwards will start. Can Brian Robison make a move to 1st string? Will he be beat out by rookie Everson Griffin? What about Jaymee Mitchell. He was an undrafted player in 2006. Made the practice squad and was signed to a two year deal in 2009? Does he have the stuff? Is there a place for him on this roster? Mike Montgomery has been with the Packers since 2005. He was signed by the Vikings for a reason. Is he healthy and ready to blossom or is this his last chance at being an NFL player.
Of course special teams play will make or break a roster spot for many of the players. It is hard to watch during a broadcast but at least they will zoom in on the guys making the big hits or returns.
Wide receivers: The Vikings are so loaded that it will be difficult for any young guys to make the team. To complicate matters the Vikings have signed two 7th round picks from the 2009 draft . Marko Mitchell played in 10 games as a Redskin last year. Freddy Brown (just signed two days ago) was on the Cinncinati practice squad last year. Both of these guys are 6'4" tall. I guess the Vikes are looking for a tall guy. Another WR addition is Taye Biddle. He was signed in 2006 by the Carolina Panthers. The Vikings are his 5th team in 5 years. They also signed undrafted 6'3" Marquis Hamilton along with short guy (5'11" but reportedly 5'9") Ray Small. Both play special teams.
Well there is some of it. A lot to watch. Plenty more than just the first half. In fact the second half might be even more fun. So get a roster printed out and a bowl of Popcorn. Its football season.