On Friday, the Vikings travel to Buffalo to take on the Bills, and as we hit the halfway point of the pre-season, here's what I'll be looking for from the Vikings.
1) Consistency from the first team offense. Last week in their 27-13 loss to Houston, the first team offense, minus a couple players, was on the field a total of two plays. Coach Leslie Frazier has already said that the first team will play the first quarter this week, and the timing of the passing game seems to be at the forefront of everyone's mind, even the coaching staff. Last week, the Vikings threw the ball 33 times compared to only 15 rushes, and I would expect more of the same. Let's face it, the Vikings running game doesn't need to prove anything to anyone.
2) Chemistry between Christian Ponder and the receivers. We had probably the most extensive breakdown of a pre-season interception in the history of the world last week, and we shall forever refer to that throw and the ensuing frame by frame breakdown as the Zaponder film (Zaponder, Zapruder...what I did there...did you see it?) But all the arguing aside as to whether the pick was Ponder's fault or Simpson's, it does go to a larger point of Ponder knowing where his receivers will be, and the receivers knowing that he'll put the ball in a position where they can make the catch. Ponder seems to only be really comfortable with Kyle Rudolph right now, but he also needs to find a comfort level with Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Jerome Simpson. That will only come in game situations, and I really want to see some of that Friday.
3) The Three Amigos. The only first round rookie that got a lot of action last week was Patterson. Shariff Floyd tweaked a knee and only played sparingly, and Xavier Rhodes didn't play at all. I want to see Patterson continue to develop, as he looked a lot more refined than we were lead to believe coming out of college, I want to see more of the same from Floyd in the brief glimpse we got, and I want to see what Rhodes can do. I think all three of these guys are going to be big contributors in 2013, and hopefully we'll see some of that this week.
4) Can Bradley Randle and/or Zach Line make the final 53? In what is probably the most intriguing camp battle left, at least for me, Randle and Line are making a push for the roster. I think both of them have an uphill climb, as Matt Asiata is a veteran incumbent that hasn't really played his way out of a roster spot yet. Yet Randle and Line are turning heads and making plays, and I think at least one of them has a real shot to make the roster.
5) I am accepting applications for the Mike Mauti Fan Club. I shall be your President For Life. As many of you know, when I'm not cheering the Vikings on, I'm also a rabid Ohio State football fan, and a Big Ten fan. Mauti was one of the players I respected the most while he was in college, and he became the new face of Penn State football in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. By the way, he's a great football player when he's healthy. When the third and fourth team was on the field, he was one of the few guys that looked like they knew what the hell they were doing. I would be stunned-STUNNED-if he doesn't make the final roster.
6) Is there smoke to the fire about Desmond Bishop not being guaranteed a roster spot? The Vikings seemed to make it a point last week that Desmond Bishop wasn't necessarily guaranteed a roster spot, and I found that kind of an incredible statement. But when I started looking into it, maybe it wasn't. When Bishop was signed, it was assumed that he would be the starting Mike. Erin Henderson seems to be dug in like an Alabama tick to keep that job, and he's holding off Bishop. Greenway has the Sam job locked down, leaving only the Will spot. Marvin Mitchell is listed as the #1 there, with Bishop at #2. With the way Gerald Hodges played last week (he's listed as the #3 Sam, but his skill set translates to the Will spot) can you talk yourself into Bishop really not making the roster? I think it's still too early to say yes, but his minor injuries that have kept him out a good portion of training camp haven't done him any favors.
7) Down roster spot battles, specifically on both lines. The bottom of both the offensive and defensive lines is still kind of squishy, and you can come up with any number of combinations as to who will make it and who won't. I'll be interested to see who sees the most snaps, and who steps up their game, because there won't be as many snaps to go around this week with the first team playing the whole first quarter.
So that's what has my interest as we head towards the halfway point of the pre-season. What are you guys going to be on the lookout for?