Right off the bat, I liked what I saw from the Vikings last night in Canton. In general I thought there were some flashes from the younger players and I saw some fire and tenacity from some younger veterans fighting to earn a starting position. The team still has some tightening up to do, but for the first full speed scrimmage of the year, it felt good to come away with a meaningless win. I was looking for some specific things in this game, so here's what I saw:
I think we escaped injury free. Unfortunately for the Steelers, their kicker Shaun Shuisam looked like he suffered some kind of knee injury. I hope it's minor and that he's ok...sucks when that happens in the preseason.
2. Offensive Line?
The offensive line did not look dominant, but they did enough to keep the chains moving on the opening series. Kalil seemed to hold up pretty well against Jarvis Jones, although I saw a couple of running plays on the left side get blown up. Overall the offensive line looked average, and I suppose that's a minor victory. On the upside, the 2nd and 3rd team offensive lines held their own against the Steelers defensive depth. I'm not sure what that says yet, but both Mike Kafka and Tyler Heinieke had ample time to throw the ball, and Vikings running backs were bursting through holes with four runs of 7 yards or more. Overall though, the Vikings running backs only averaged 3.5 yards per carry, mediocre.
3. Passing Game?
While the first team offense only played one series, it was essentially a field goal effort that took them down inside the red zone (they went for it on 4th down instead and didn't convert). Teddy looked sharp, but didn't take too many chances. He completed 5 of 6 passes for 44 yards (7.3 y/a) and looked calm and in command. Most of his passes were short dump offs (taking what the defense gave him), and he never attempted a deep throw. In fact, I don't remember a single target to Charles Johnson or Mike Wallace. But he showed good rapport with Kyle Rudolph. It was such a small sample size, so hopefully we get to see a little more next game. Mike Kafka is one of the more awkward looking quarterbacks in the league, but somehow he managed to go 7 of 10 for 66 yards and a touchdown. Heinicke looked decent as well going 7 of 10 for 54 yards, with the lone interception not really his fault at all. I was surprised to see them sit Shaun Hill, so his backup status must be written in stone. I think both Kafka and Heinicke showed enough to warrant a serious look as the #3 quarterback, so this is a battle worth watching.
4. Defensive Secondary?
I have to say that my first impression was not positive. I saw a lot of missed tackles and poor tackling technique, specifically from guys like Terence Newman and Robert Blanton. Trae Waynes got a lot of playing time and also made a lot of mistakes. One of the worries about his aggressive style of man coverage coming out of college was that it would draw pass interference penalties in the NFL, and lo and behold he had at least two flags thrown on him tonight. He was also beat in zone coverage on more than one occasion. It wasn't all bad, because when he played at the line of scrimmage, he showed toughness and an ability to battle with the opposing receiver (the same skills he displayed at Michigan State). But this kid is playing like a rookie and making rookie mistakes right now. I expect he'll learn from it and he certainly has the potential to grow into a good NFL cornerback, but he's not quite there yet in my opinion. Xavier Rhodes had some nice plays, but overall the secondary made a few too many mistakes.
5. Linebacker rotation?
Gerald Hodges was all over the field, and I loved his intensity. This kid should be a starter somehow. Eric Kendricks looks like a true, 3-down middle linebacker to me. He was stuffing the run playing disciplined in the gaps, and his coverage in the middle of the field was outstanding. That said, Audie Cole looked good too, getting his hand on a pass and forcing a fumble. If Kendricks doesn't earn the starting MLB spot this year, he'll surely get it next year. Brian Peters and Brandon Watts flashed with a few good plays as well and should make good special teams guys if nothing else. This linebacker corp is the deepest I've seen it since about 2008 or 2009, which is good. The coaches will have some very tough decisions to make, and this was essentially without Greenway or Barr on the field.
Again, no injuries...perhaps the only stat that really matters. Hooray!
I'm going to give out two awards, one to the guy I thought impressed me the most called the "Well Played" award. And the other to the guy I thought struggled the most, called the "Oops" award.
WELL PLAYED AWARD
TE Mycole Pruitt
Pruitt really impressed me hauling in some tough grabs in traffic, and rumbling down the field with a bulldozer frame. He was also the Vikings leading receiver hauling in 4 catches for 54 yards and a touchdown. He displayed fantastic hands and looks like he could be the complete package at tight end with his ability to block. With Rhett Ellison holding down the H-back role, Pruitt will likely be the primary backup to Kyle Rudolph and should see plenty of looks in two-TE sets. This kid looks like the real deal and makes Chase Ford a complete after thought.
Honorable Mention: Stefon Diggs. Had a great punt return that should have been a TD, and a couple of key grabs on third down. I can see why he's got all of the "Mr. Mankato" hype.
P Jeff Locke
When your punting average is only 36.2 yards...something aint working. He did have a long punt of 58 yards, but it went out of the end zone for a touchback. His first punt of the night went 32 yards and rolled out of bounds. Dude. No matter what direction or height the coaches are instructing him to punt, a 36.2 yard average is just bad. Based on his rough year last year, reports of struggles in camp this year, and now this performance, I'm legitimately concerned about our punter...a position that shouldn't even really matter. For them to not even bring in any competition was a mistake and it reeks of them not wanting to admit their mishandling of the Kluwe situation...still.
It was great to finally have some Vikings football to watch, even if it wasn't real. What did you think of the game?