Last week's pre-season debut was your typical pre-season game--fairly boring, hard to keep up with who was playing and when, and the final score had as much relevance as a pencil with no lead.
But we did see some good things, things that we can look to as signs of improvement--Christian Ponder looked a lot more comfortable than he did last year, and that was due primarily to what looks to be an improved offensive line. The running game looks to be in good hands if Toby Gerhart gets increased work in the early going, but most of us thought that already.
With tonight's game against Buffalo just around the corner, let's talk about some things I'll be looking for as the Vikes take the field this evening.
1. Matt Kalil v. Mario Williams: The education of Matt Kalil continues. Last week he played very well overall, with the exception of one speed rush, but the 49ers weren't at full strength on the defensive line. Mario Williams is the type of defensive end that has given the Vikings fits in recent years--athletic, fast off the edge, with good closing speed--and hopefully Kalil can step up and take care of business.
2. Harrison Smith, Josh Robinson, and a Re-Tooled Secondary: 3rd round rookie CB Josh Robinson will play, rookie 1st round safety Harrison Smith will start, and someone--anyone--needs to step up into the other safety position. Neither Jamarca Sanford or Mistral Raymond impressed last week, but they will both get another opportunity this week. If Antoine Winfield can stay healthy, I'm somewhat encouraged by the secondary the Vikes will field in 2012, but somebody at the safety position has to step up.
3. Jasper Brinkley: I really didn't pay a lot of attention to Brinkley last week. I gave him a pass because he was on IR last season, and is working his way back from injury. He was fairly pedestrian against San Francisco, but that was to be expected. This week, I'm looking for more from him in the middle. It seemed to me he was slow to react to what was happening on the field, but I'll expect that to be better this week.
4. The Run Defense: I didn't get too hopped up about the run defense last week--Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, and Antoine Winfield didn't play, and they are arguably the three best run defenders the team has. They'll be in the lineup this week, and I am of the belief that Harrison Smith will be a hard hitting complement to the run defense. That said, Williams needs some help in the middle to plug the lanes between the tackles, and I'm not sure Letroy Guion or Fred Evans is the answer. Guion's out, anyway, so this might be an opportunity for a Christian Ballard or somebody else to step up.
5. Round And Round The WR Wheel Goes, Where It Stops, Nobody Knows: Outside of Percy Harvin, the WR corps is wide open. On any day, you could go down the list of WR's on the roster and either talk me into each player making the roster or each player getting cut. Stephen Burton's performance has probably put him on the inside track over guys like Devin Aromashodu and Manny Arcenaux, but I think it's still premature to call him a lock. I'd like to see some Jarius Wright tonight, but someone needs to emerge as the #2 guy opposite Harvin.
If you're on the fence about going to the 'Dome tonight, read this fan connect post from Skol Girl--she gives you four great reasons to go off the top of her head, and there's some great info about places to eat and imbibe in adult beverages before the game.