We made it. WE MADE IT! Football is back, as the Vikings take on the Cincinnati Bengals tonight, starting at 6:30. Even though it's 'just pre-season', and most of us will be itching for the regular season to get here about the time Joel Stave takes the field tonight, pre-season games are valuable for a lot of different reasons. It gives the coaches game tape to evaluate, it gives players that are fighting for a roster spot a chance to step up or step back, and it gives us something to talk about other than practice and even joint practices with the Bengals.
And we can all make fun of Joel Stave. Better dead than red, am I right?
So let's look at some things to watch for tonight:
Teddy's Deep Ball: All summer we've heard about how crisp Teddy Bridgewater has been and how Teddy's deep ball accuracy has improved. Well...let's see it. I know the Vikings have a lot of things to work on, but I'd like to see them unleash the dragon a few times and let us get a sneak preview of this new improved accuracy. Because if this is now a legitimate weapon for the Vikings offense...mercy.
The Offensive Line: With Mike Zimmer saying Brandon Fusco won't play, I don't think the starters are fully set yet. Right now, it looks like that for tonight the starting five will be, from left to right: Matt Kalil, Alex Boone, John Sullivan, Joe Berger, and Andre Smith. Once Fusco is healthy, I would expect him to slide back into the right guard slot, with Berger either re-entering the competition to start at center with Sully, or become the uber-backup. However it shakes out though, tonight will be the first time we'll see the so called new and improved line in action. How will they hold up protecting Bridgewater? Who are the guys that are backing up the starters, and where? This is the group I'll probably be paying the closest attention to for most of the night.
Trae Waynes: With Terence Newman not making the trip to the Queen City, this is a big moment for Waynes, pre-season game or not. Newman has struggled so far, Waynes has looked good, and a strong performance tonight might cement Waynes as a full time starter. But a poor performance and the Vikings will still be looking for answers at left cornerback. Will Master Waynes step up? I think he will and I hope he does, primarily because I think he's a really good player. But mostly because I want to listen to all the crickets chirp from the 'Waynes is a bust' corner of the Internet, muahahaha.
Welcome To The NFL, Rookie: It's the debut for the 2016 Vikings draft class, most notably Laquon Treadwell, Mackensie Alexander, and Willlllllllllie BEEEEEAVERRRRRSSSS (I'm sorry, I can't help it, greatest name ever). For Treadwell, I'll be interested to see how much time he gets with the first team, and if not, whether he'll be used in the red zone with the first team should the situation arise. With Newman out this help Alexander as well, as one would think he might see more playing time just because of attrition, and what situations they use him in will say a lot. And for Beavers, the Vikings are going to need to find depth and a possible successor to Matt Kalil depending on what Kalil does this year, so this is a big moment for him as well. Can he play in the NFL? We'll start finding out tonight.
Safety Dance: Harrison Smith is a given, and I think the other job is Andrew Sendejo's to lose. That said, there are some intriguing guys behind Sendejo that are making some noise. I don't know if it's enough noise to pass Sendejo, but Anthony Harris and Jayron Kearse are guys that are having a good camp. I will be surprised if either one gets any work in with the first team, but I do expect them to see a lot of playing time once the starters come out. How much each guy gets will tell you a lot, I think, so pay attention there.
Flash...In The Pan? I honestly don't know what to make of Cordarrelle Patterson at this point. You hear great things from the coaching staff about the work he put in during the off-season, then he gets hurt right as training camp begins and misses a bunch of practice. Then he makes the 'film don't lie' comment about 2013, glossing over the '14-15 seasons. I have no idea where he really is on the depth chart, and I have no idea what the long term plans the Vikings have with Patterson, if any.
Maybe we'll get some clarity tonight, but it seems that Charles Johnson and Stefon Diggs are pretty safe bets to start right now. With the rookie Treadwell pushing hard and making a positive impression, you just get the feeling things might be slipping out of Patterson's hands. It's frustrating, because he has a ton of talent, and could be a great asset for the Vikings. Maybe we'll see some of that talent tonight.
Regardless, here's to a good game, the celebration of The Great American Sport, and most importantly, no injuries for either team. SKOL VIKINGS!