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Vikings First Pre-Season Game Notes

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NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Buffalo Bills Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Well, the Vikings first pre-season game is in the books, and good, bad, and ugly, it’s the first real look at how players are doing. In some cases it confirms what has been seen in practice, but in other cases there are surprises. But whatever the case, the coaching staff has a better idea of what needs to be worked on, and what changes need to be made.

Here are some things I noted, as they relate to potential roster/depth chart movement:

Right Tackle

I think most people noticed that Mike Remmers made a undistinquished UFA defensive end named Eddie Yarbrough look like an All-Pro. But did you notice that Willie Beavers, playing against the same guy, handled him much better?

That should not be ignored or overlooked when it comes to handing out first team reps against Seattle.

Right Guard

This is the deepest position on the offensive line. But that’s a problem of sorts too. Joe Berger, Pat Elflein, and Danny Isidora all look good and could be a high quality starter at right guard. But it doesn’t make sense to have better linemen playing in backup spots.

Center

Easton looks better than Elflein at center, but Berger is probably the best center on the team. And Elflein looks better at guard. Maybe the competition should be between Berger and Easton at center, and Elflein and Isidora at right guard.

Left Guard

Alex Boone didn’t look as good yesterday as he did in camp, but this isn’t the weak link so I’m not that worried about it. TJ Clemmings didn’t look too bad, which is to say better than he’s ever looked. He’s definitely better in a phone box than outside.

Left Tackle

I wouldn’t over-react to the sack Rashod Hill gave up. It was kind of a goofy play, and there was blame to be spread around. In any case he’s the backup and looks serviceable, which is more than the Vikings could say for their starting left tackles last year. When Riley Reiff returns, he will be even better too.

Quarterback

As accurate as Bradford has been in practice, it was surprising he wasn’t so much against the Bills. This was his first time since last season when he could actually get hit, so perhaps that threw him off a bit.

Case Keenum has gone from awful to pretty good as a backup in a span of about two weeks. I think it’s gonna be hard for Heinicke to get out of the cellar at this point, having thrown effectively two interceptions, one of which bounced off of a Bills player.

Running Back

Dalvin Cook did not surprise or disappoint, really. Would’ve liked to see more yards rushing, but the offensive line wasn’t cooperating. As a receiver, he’s just as big a threat- probably more so- to break a big one.

Sadly, Bishop Sankey is done for the year with a torn ACL. He was having a good camp, and although he wouldn’t have made the Vikings roster, he would have made another team’s roster.

And with Latavious Murray and Jerick McKinnon both out yesterday as well, CJ Ham and Terell Newby got more playing time. Ham is on the bubble, Newby will be cut.

Wide Receiver

I doubt many would have predicted Stacy Coley to have more yards than all other WRs combined, but he did. That gives him the last WR roster spot for now. Rodney Adams had a few good plays, which is more than Fruechte could say, but couldn’t keep up with Coley.

Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen were surprisingly quiet, but their positions are secure.

Jarius Wright showed he can play, and while he didn’t have a reception, he showed he can still be a deep threat on one play, and drew a PI on another intermediate route.

Michael Floyd, although he had two receptions for 20 yards, was a little disappointing. He was working against 2nd string competition most of the time, and I expected more from him. By the time he gets back from his suspension, he may be farther back on the depth chart than expected.

Right now, I list it as Diggs, Thielen, Wright, Treadwell, Floyd, Coley. If Coley is able to build on last night’s performance, he’ll move ahead of Floyd.

Tight End

Pretty quiet night for tight-ends - not a single reception between them. The closest may have been on a target of Bucky Hodges, but the throw was both a little off and where it needed to be for Hodges to make the reception in good coverage, but he wasn’t able to make a one-hand grab on a ball with some velocity behind it.

On the blocking side, there was some room for improvement, but nothing major. I’d put the depth chart as Rudolph, Morgan, Hodges, Carter - if they keep 4 TEs.

Defensive End

Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter’s starting jobs are secure, but there is more interesting competition for backup spots. Tashawn Bower had the highest PFF rating of all Vikings last night, so obviously that helps his prospects.

On the other hand, Ifeadi Odenigbo made some rookie mistakes that took some luster off his camp performance, but apart from going up field in pass rush mode on running downs and allowing some big runs, he did ok too.

Brian Robison didn’t play, and Stephen Weatherly kind of got lost in the shuffle, so the competition between Bower, Odenigbo and Weatherly for what may be only one DE spot is really heating up.

Defensive Interior

Outside of Linval Joseph as the starting nose tackle, everything else is up for grabs here. The problem is nobody is doing much grabbing.

Let’s start with defensive tackle and Tom Johnson. He had neither tackle or assist, nor pressure that I could see. But he did give up at least one long run through his gap, and was taken out pretty much every run play near him.

Then there was Datone Jones, who played around two quarters. He had one assist. He may have had a hurry or two, but was nevertheless ineffective. Most of this was against the 2nd string. I saw him penetrate a couple times shooting the gap, but he ended up taking himself out of the play.

Then came Will Sutton, who played about a quarter and had a tackle, an assist, and a pressure to show for it. But for a guy who only played a quarter, had started for the Bears and was playing against 2nd or 3rd string competition, this was underwhelming too.

Last was Dylan Bradley, who played the last 5 minutes, and had an assist. The only other comment I have about him is that he penetrated and was able to move his blocker, and didn’t allow any runs by him.

At nose tackle, Linval Joseph didn’t play much. After he was done for the night, Shamar Stephen took over, with mixed results, more bad than good. He had a tackle and two assists over about two quarters, but also gave up some runs and really didn’t generate much pressure. He was overpowered at times with double teams, which occasionally allowed a lineman to go to the second level. Not the worst of performances, but he had trouble holding the line of scrimmage.

After Stephen came Jaleel Johnson, who had the best game of all the interior linemen with an 83.4 overall PFF grade. Johnson played about a quarter or so, had a sack, perhaps more of a coverage sack, but generally showed more energy and motor than Stephen, although he was moved off the ball a couple times too.

The bottom line here is right now the DT spot is wide open, with nobody looking particularly good, and at the NT spot beyond Joseph, Jaleel Johnson shows more potential, and may in the not too distant future be clearly better than Stephen. He can also play DT. So, there is a good case for the 4th round pick to make the roster.

But if he does, that leaves only two spots left. And four guys to fill them, 3 of them veterans. It makes for a difficult decision because Tom Johnson, at 33 and in the last year of his contract with no dead cap, isn’t the future, hasn’t played well, and keeping him would also mean letting another younger guy with more potential go.

It’s also difficult as both Datone Jones and Will Sutton are re-learning the position, and it’s unclear who may be the better player in time, or even if they will be good enough to be quality starters. But with everyone needing reps, it makes sense to cut the depth chart sooner rather than later, unless planning to make a cut here when Floyd and/or Bridgewater come back.

Linebackers

Unlike the defensive interior, the linebacker group had a few guys stand out for good performances against the Bills. Eric Wilson was one, so was Anthony Barr- which was reassuring Ben Gedeon too. Edmond Robinson as well. But with Barr and Kendricks secure as the two 3-down LBs, Both Robinson, but especially Gedeon, made a good case for themselves for that last spot.

I suspect if Lamur does not win the starting spot, and last night makes that more likely, he will be cut given his $2.75m salary cap. That leaves an opening for Elijah Lee or Eric Wilson to make the roster as well.

As it stands, I think Barr, Kendricks, Robinson and Gedeon and Kentrell Brothers will make the roster. That leaves Lamur, Lee and Wilson to battle for the last spot.

Cornerback

I think the four main CB spots are secure between Rhodes, Waynes, Newman and Alexander. I also think Marcus Sherels makes the roster as a CB, but also special teams. That leaves one spot left between potentially Jabari Price, Antone Exum, and Terrell Sinkfield. That last spot seems very much in play, but I’m not sure who, at this point, has the advantage. I think Simkfield may have helped himself the most, but was probably coming from the least likely to win it.

Safety

We know Harrison Smith is secure as a starting safety. I think both Andrew Sendejo and Jayron Kearse make the roster as well. That leaves the last spot a competition between Anthony Harris and Jack Tocho. Antone Exum looks to be a long shot here as he’s been playing slot corner.

Jayron Kearse is also making a case to challenge Sendejo for the starting job. He was one of the highest rated Vikings against the Bills, with a 84.6 rating. He had a couple nice stops in run defense, including a key stop on 3rd and 1, forcing the Bills to kick a field goal, and another TFL. Sendejo’s strength is in run defense, so if Kearse can compete with him there, the Vikings may prefer his size and speed advantage in coverage.

Beyond that, I’d say Harris has the advantage at the moment for the last safety spot, as Tocho hasn’t really shown much yet. But that could change as Tocho has more ability in coverage, if he can learn the system and prove his run defense as well. I suspect that if the coaches are comfortable they have three starting-caliber safeties, and Newman who can fill in there too, they may be more comfortable developing Tocho as a higher upside guy, rather than keeping Harris.

Special Teams

While Marcus Sherels did not return a punt or kick against the Bills, he is the most likely returner for both at the moment. Rodney Adams had a decent kick return, but also a muffed punt which hurts his chances with both punts and kicks. The issue is ball security. More than anything, you don’t want turnovers on special teams, so if there is any doubt in that regard it’s not gonna happen. I think that’s the case with Adams.

Coley is still in the running, and did ok on his punt returns, but I still think it will be hard to displace Sherels as a returner.

I think the punter and kicker competition has more clear favorites now in Taylor Symmank and Kai Forbath. Quigley had a nice punt inside the 10, but also a short 31 yard punt that hurt him, while Symmank had 4 good ones including 3 inside the 20 and a 60 yarder to put him ahead.

Forbath still has yet to miss a FG, and made his extra point too, as did Koehn. Still, it’s Forbath’s job to lose at this point.