My apologies for the delayed SMR. I was up north on my annual family camping trip in Akeley, Minnesota this past weekend. Thankfully I was still able to catch the game live at the Akeley Municipal Liquor Store & Lounge. (Click the link to see their Geocities-era website. It's great.) The bar's one TV screen was tuned to the Vikings game, but the sound was turned down in favor of incredibly loud mid-90's hard rock on the jukebox. So I got to enjoy the preseason action with a soundtrack of Alice In Chains, Temple of the Dog, and Buckcherry--when the locals weren't obscuring our view by ordering drinks.
One of those locals saw our Vikings gear, gave a fist pump toward our table, and stumbled over to chat toward the end of the first quarter. After an awkward introduction, he loudly slurred this proclamation:
"THE MINNESOTA VIKINGS DEFENSE HASN'T ALLOWED A TOUCHDOWN ALL YEAR!"
And just like that he returned to his post at the bar. BAC be damned, he wasn't wrong. Of course when Jameis Winston scrambled into the end zone late in the second quarter, our new friend was crestfallen. But not for long--he quickly popped back out of his chair and shouted back to our table:
"THE MINNESOTA VIKINGS FIRST TEAM DEFENSE HASN'T ALLOWED A TOUCHDOWN ALL YEAR!"
Again, there was no arguing with his truth. Which he repeated at least a dozen times throughout the rest of the night. Even for those of us that weren't three times the legal limit, there was still plenty to be excited about on Saturday night. The offense looked dangerous, the defense looked stout and opportunistic, and the special teams looked sound.
Of course, the football gods reminded us that this is still the Minnesota Vikings we're talking about, as they smote poor Phil Loadholt's Achilles tendon on the second play of the game and took him out for the season. Football is truly a bittersweet symphony.
'Cause it's a bittersweet symphony, this life
Try to make ends meet
You're a slave to money then you die
I'll take you down the only road I've ever been down
You know the one that takes you to the places
where all the veins meet yeah,
No change, I can change
I can change, I can change
But I'm here in my mold
I am here in my mold
But I'm a million different people
from one day to the next
I can't change my mold
No, no, no, no, no
Let's get to the stocks.
Blue Chip Stocks
Jeff Locke. Only because I may not ever be able to put him in this section again. Locke had four of his five punts end up with the Bucs inside their own 20. The fifth was a 44-yarder that required a fair catch. For the first time in forever*, Locke's punts appeared to actually go where he intended them to.
(* = Every parent of a child 5 and under now has that song from Frozen stuck in their head for the rest of the day. Sorry.)
Teddy Bridgewater. His numbers were great again, even if they were once again achieved in a relatively safe manner. I'm giving him a blue chip grade because how safe he makes you feel when he's on the field. Teddy is accurate, confident, and smart with the ball. Isn't that great? After spending most of the past five seasons with an impending sense of doom every time a Vikings quarterback dropped back, the sense of calm Bridgewater projects is incredibly refreshing.
Everson Griffen. He is going to absolutely DESTROY opposing offenses this year. Griffen only played 16 snaps but it felt like he was in the backfield about 20 times. I mean, look at this spin move:
Boy am I glad the Vikings extended that guy's contract.
Matt Kalil. I know I shouldn't be this excited about a fourth overall draft pick heading into his fourth season being decent at his job against lackluster competition, but dammit I'm excited! Perhaps we'll get a better idea of how far "back" Kalil is when he takes on Khalil Mack and the Raiders this weekend.
Eric Kendricks. The rookie was all over the field again on Saturday. Watching his tape was extremely easy--just locate the ball and you'll find #54 in purple very close to it. He looked great in coverage as well. The only thing keeping him out of the blue chip section was the fact that he dominated second- and third-teamers, which obviously isn't a fair fight. I'd like to see Kendricks get some reps with the first team over the next three preseason games; I think we'll like what we see there as well.
Marcus Sherels. There are three things on this Earth that can survive anything: Twinkies, cockroaches, and Marcus Sherels. Stefon Diggs is still giving Sherels a run for his money in the punt return department, but the former Golden Gopher just won't go away. His one punt return was good for 19 yards and he made a couple great plays on kick coverage. While his pass coverage wasn't anything to write home about, Sherels is proving himself yet again as an indispensable special teams player.
Antone Exum Jr. He was limited to only five snaps due to an undisclosed "non-serious" injury. But on one of those snaps he was able to find himself with the ball in his hands for the second straight game. We might be seeing the start of a trend here.
All of the backup running backs trying to make the team. Hey Joe Banyard, Dominique Williams, and DuJuan Harris: not to go all Captain Obvious on you here, but if you'd like to make the team you should probably hold onto the ball. (Harris' fumble was ruled down by contact, but still.)
Cordarrelle Patterson. Hi, Captain Obvious checking in again. If you're an enigmatic first round pick trying to find snaps in a very deep receiving corps, you probably shouldn't commit dead ball penalties to cancel out any good will you had from scoring a preseason touchdown. Yes, the call was iffy, but Patterson simply cannot afford to screw up like he did. Seeing only eight snaps in a preseason game that heavily featured the rest of the backup wide receivers is not a good omen for Patterson.
Sell: Thinking the Vikings offensive line will be OK without Phil Loadholt. The O-line was probably the shakiest unit on the team heading into the season, and losing the big guy at right tackle raises even more question marks. If this Vikings team has one Achill--yeah, still too soon--big question mark that could prevent a playoff run, this will be it.
Buy: If the Loadholt injury had to happen, it happened at a good time. Since it was only Week 1 of the preseason, the Vikings have plenty of time to get T.J. Clemmings ready. Or get someone else on the roster ready. Or sign a free agent. Or even sign someone cut by another team later in the preseason. Whatever the final solution is, the Loadholt injury would have been tougher to deal with if the Vikings had already whittled their roster down to 53.
Sell: This injury marks the end of Loadholt's career with the Vikings. The 2016 season is the final year of his deal and it includes a $7.75 million cap hit. That's a big number for someone that will miss 21 consecutive games by the end of the 2015 season. But unless Loadholt's recovery goes poorly, it seems unlikely that the Vikings would take on $1.75 million of dead money by cutting him next season. Moving him would be tricky as well due to the injuries. Expect Loadholt to be back in Mankato next July unless his replacement puts on an incredible performance.
Buy: Teddy Bridgewater being able to handle the pressure if protection becomes an issue. As I alluded to earlier, Bridgewater's pocket presence appears to be one of his biggest assets. No quarterback can thrive if he's running for his life on every snap, but he will still be able to move the ball if the protection is spotty every now and then.
Sell: Norv Turner changing the play calling if protection becomes an issue. When Loadholt went down with a torn pectoral muscle last year, Bridgewater was still doing all sorts of five- and seven-step drops. "Quick-release" doesn't seem to have high priority in Turner's offense. After doing a cursory review of Bridgewater's dropbacks (most of which were already out of the shotgun), this was the only pass where Teddy didn't take at least five steps:
So regardless of how Clemmings fills in, Norv's still gonna Norv. Don't expect much to change with the play calling.
Buy: Mike Wallace and Charles Johnson getting lots of touches in the regular season. I have seen a handful of comments and tweets wondering why Minnesota's top two receivers haven't been involved more yet. They'll be just fine. From what I saw in Mankato and what has been reported from practice, we'll see plenty of those two when the games start to count.
Sell: Zach Line getting any touches in the regular season. The fullback got four carries and three catches against Tampa Bay, which might (should?) be more than he sees in the entire regular season. That fumble isn't going to help his cause either. Just block and be happy that the Vikings seem to be keen on keeping a true fullback, Zach.
Gemma Thompson Quote of the Day
My daughter only caught the first quarter of the game before mommy took her back to the campground to get ready for bedtime. (And more importantly because the Akeley Muni isn't exactly child-friendly after happy hour.) But she did drop this one after the Zach Line touchdown:
"TUH-DAAHHHHHNN! RAWWRR, I'MMA BITE YOU!"
(She was playing with a toy dragon at the time, which explains the latter half of the quote.)