So it’s dress rehearsal week for the NFL, as this is the one pre-season game that should tell us where our favorite team sits.
For the Vikings, who will play their starters into the third quarter, the 49ers game on the road will give us a glimpse into what to expect, kinda sorta. I’m not going to come away thinking the season is lost if the purple don’t play well, but it’s also safe to say we can’t afford another showing like last week. So what are some things to look for come Sunday night?
Offensive consistency: There hasn’t been a lot of it in the pre-season. It will be nice to see Purple Jesus running the ball to give the offense a legit look. I want to see the offense in rhythm, and I want to see Christian Ponder and Greg Jennings play some pitch and catch. They’ve been off so far, and they need to get on the same page. For Ponder, run the offense, put together a few scoring drives, and get ready for the season.
Defense Maintain: Colin Kaepernick will be a tough test for the Vikings, and how they will deal with that read option offense will be telling. They have the personnel to match up well against it—defensive ends that keep contain, penetrating interior linemen that can collapse the pocket, and fast linebackers that can move laterally to limit any big runs. I’m looking forward to see what the Vikings come up with.
The New Guys: Xavier Rhodes, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Shariff Floyd all look like the real deal so far. Floyd won’t play the rest of the pre-season because of a minor knee injury, but Rhodes and Patterson will. Patterson will step into the third wide receiver role for Jarius Wright, and it could be a huge opportunity for him. Wright has passed all his concussion tests, but the Vikings are being smart and Wright will not even travel with the team to San Francisco.
Farther down the draft class, Gerald Hodges and Mike Mauti continue to play well, and I think they’ll make the final 53. Hodges seems like a lock at this point, and as much as I like Mauti, he still has only played on the third team, behind Audie Cole. I’ll be looking to see if he gets any second team reps on Sunday.
New Dime Back?: Okay, the top five DB’s are Rhodes, Josh Robinson, Chris Cook, Jamarca Sanford, and Harrison Smith, on that we all agree. Marcus Sherels has been the dime back and the primary punt return guy for the last two years, and you could argue that the only reason he made the roster last season was because of his special teams play. But Bobby Felder is pushing Sherels hard for both spots, and seems to be on the verge of beating him out. Sherels has had a rough camp, having to deal with Felder’s strong push and the death of his father, and Sunday might be his final shot to keep his roster spot. Another good performance by Felder, though, and I think he takes it.
Your third running back: The Vikings are set at running back with Purple Jesus and TOBYSMASH, TOBYCRUSH, but the third running back spot has been the most entertaining battle for me so far in the pre-season. Zach Line, Bradley Randle, and Joe Banyard have all shown flashes of being the guy, and I don’t kniow who it will be. Line has that 61 yard catch and run for a TD, but he also has the longest shot because he is a fullback. Randle has been more consistent, but Banyard has had the biggest run. Lost in all of this is Matt Asiata, who has to be feeling the heat right now. He’s done nothing on the field that makes him stand out from the other two, and he seems to be in real danger of losing his roster spot.
Line depth: What I have been doing is not only using the eye test, but also looking at who has gotten the most playing time. This is why I think guys like Travis Bond and DeMarcus Love make the team. They’ve played close to 40% of the offensive snaps so far this pre-season, and they were Spielman draft picks. Like it or not, guys drafted by this regime tend to be given the benefit of the doubt more than other guys. This is the last game before rosters are cut to 75, and I think we’ll have a pretty good idea who is going to go in the first round of cuts, depending on how things shake out Sunday—if we don’t already.
So that’s what I’ll be looking for. What about you guys?