Once again in pre-season, there is plenty of good, bad and ugly to evaluate. Looking at the game action from the point of view of who looked to move up or down the depth chart, here are some key notes, by position:
Case Keenum seems a near lock as the backup QB to Sam Bradford at this point. He got the most playing time, and didn’t do anything to give Taylor Heinicke an opening to challenge for the backup spot. He looked good, and a solid backup. The competition looks about over, and judging by the look on his face on the sidelines, I think Heinicke knows it too.
Heinicke had a couple poor throws- and a couple good ones too- but there isn’t an aspect of his game thst looks better than Keenum at this point. With increasing optimism that Bridgewater will be ready to play at some point this season, and high quality competition at other positions, I don’t see the Vikings keeping a third QB on the roster to start the regular season.
Dalvin Cook will be the starter, the only question is how Pat Shurmur wants to manage his touches. But with Latavius Murray still out, Jerick McKinnon didn’t do much to make a claim for more playing time. C.J. Ham was actually able to do more as both a receiver and a runner than McKinnon, which helps his chances.
I think Ham is showing enough so far as a RB/FB that, combined with his special teams utility, will get him a roster spot as the 4th RB.
Michael Floyd continues to be kinda ‘meh’ out there. He really needs more work with his routes and bringing down the contested catches. In time he could get there, but the 4 game suspension is going to make it difficult for him to make much progress. He leaves the door open for Laquon Treadwell for the third WR spot if he is able to play and impress next week.
Rodney Adams had a couple short catches, but that performance was overshadowed by his kick return fumble, confirming the ball security issues he brought with him from college. His chances of making the team declined significantly as he looks out of the running to be a returner.
Stacy Coley had a couple receptions, but not as big a night as last week. He still looks to have the inside track on the last WR spot over Rodney Adams, however.
Pat Elflein improved his chances to overtake Nick Easton at center. He didn’t have any bad snaps, while holding up well as a blocker. However, Nick Easton, starting at LG for the injured Alex Boone, also looked good. Mike Zimmer had a comment that the ‘low center of gravity guys’ looked good. I’m assuming he was referring to Easton and Elflein.
In general, among the first and second string linemen, I didn’t notice any standout poor performers. It may be that while there may be a relatively low ceiling on how good the starters can be, I think the depth along the offensive line is improving. If Elflein wins the starting center spot, Easton looks to be a solid interior backup, with Danny Isidora looking good too. At tackle, between Rashod Hill and the improved Willie Beavers, depth looks better than last year.
Alex Boone was not missed out there, which is something to think about.
Kyle Rudolph has yet to catch a pass in pre-season, but he did manage to stand out in the wrong way, committing a critical off-sides penalty as the offense got into the red zone, which along with th e delay of game penalty, scuppered the drive and blew a good chance at a TD.
The late standout was Bucky Hodges, who had two big catches on seam routes up the middle- one for a TD- that I hope become a regular part of the Vikings offense. Getting him involved is encouraging, even if it was late in the game. I hope in the remaining pre-season games he will be involved earlier- and often.
Tashawn Bower once again made a good case for him to make the roster. He wasn’t perfect- he allowed a big run- but he is showing he belongs as a backup DE. I think he makes the roster.
Stephen Weatherly continues to look so-so. I think he makes the roster over Odenigbo at the moment, but the competition at the backup DE spots is not over.
Jaleel Johnson improved upon his performance last week, and now looks to be the best DT on the roster outside of Linval Joseph. His 86.3 overall PFF grade was the highest of any Viking. He is the most deserving of the starting 3-tech job of all the competitors there. And it’s not even close.
Starting 3-tech Tom Johnson still has a hard time getting off blocks most of the time, and is not the answer for an improved run defense. He has also been underwhelming as a pass rusher.
Datone Jones, Shamar Stephen, and Will Sutton all got a lot of playing time, but none impressed. These look like bubble players right now, and I’m guessing two of the three don’t make the team.
Dylan Bradley looks like practice squad at this point. There just aren’t the reps there for him, and I’m guessing they keep one veteran between TJ, Jones and Sutton.
Ben Gedeon looks to be closing in on the starting WLB spot. He suffered some sort of minor injury that he returned from, and although he didn’t turn in as strong a performance as last week, he looked better than his competitors.
Edmond Robinson did not look nearly as good this week. He struggled in coverage, and was lackluster in run defense too. Emmanuel Lamur also did not stand out. It’s hard to see the Vikings keeping him over younger guys at this point.
There was really nobody that impressed in this group last night. Trae Waynes didn’t play, and that kind of exposed the secondary- which apart from Rhodes didn’t look ready.
MacKenzie Alexander looked every bit as bad as he did last year, which casts doubt on the improvement coaches have cited this off-season. He does not look ready to start. Not at all ready. On one completion to Doug Baldwin I noticed he gave a good 5-10 yard cushion and was backpedaling and shifted his hips outside when Baldwin ran a short crossing route inside. Another- I believe a TD reception- he played way off on an out route and had no chance to defend the pass - even if he hadn’t also slipped on the play. He lacks confidence, and really lost his head out there under the lights. Hopefully he can work through this, but his performance last night was not encouraging. The best thing I could say about Alexander is that he may be better in press coverage than the off-coverage I saw him play most of the time- very badly.
Terence Newman has yet to impress so far this pre-season, but he has to be the starting nickelback at this point. Jabari Price looked better than Alexander, but that was against the 2nd/3rd string. Exum was also better than Alexander at CB, but then again everyone was.
Marcus Sherels did ok as a backup. The TD catch he allowed showed his limitations, but he had some good plays too against the 2nd/3rd string.
But overall this game was a sobering indication of where the DBs are right now.
And that includes safeties for the most part. Andrew Sendejo was out, so that gave more time for backups. Both Antone Exum and Anthony Harris looked awful. They did not anticipate, were slow to react, and lacked confidence.
The only good performance among the backups was Jayron Kearse, who had another good game, building on last week, with the 2nd highest overall PFF grade at 83.7. He allowed one completion with two break-ups on his three targets in coverage, and also did well in run defense- 81.4 rating there. Kearse solidified his hold on the #3 safety spot. There really isn’t any legitimate competition at this point. He continues to make his case for a starting job as well. Starter or not, I expect Kearse will get more playing time this season in rotation at safety.
Going into the game, Kai Forbath looked to have the advantage as the incumbant kicker, and Taylor Symmank the lead at punter. They both look to have held those advantages. Symmank out-punted Quigley narrowly, while Forbath continues to take advantage of his extended opportunities.
I’m not sure there was ever really much of a competition for the punt return job- Marcus Sherels is a near lock outside of a truly outstanding performance by a new-comer, but that has not materialized.
Kick-returner remains wide open. Sherels is probably the most likely there too at the moment, but Mike Priefer said esrlier this week that with all the other special teams units Sherels is on, he may want someone else to take the kick return duties.
Rodney Adams, who was a contender for the kick returner spot, seems very unlikely to win that job now after dommitting the biggest sin a kick returner can make- fumbling away the kickoff to start the second half. This confirms ball security issues associated with him- the muffed punt last week didn’t help either. I don’t see the Vikings risking special teams turnovers, which is a big nail in the coffin for Rodney Adams’ chances of making the roster.
Stacy Coley also had a lesser mistake on a later kick return, hesitating before taking out a kick about 7 yards deep in the end zone, getting only to about the 10 yard line.
Jerick McKinnon also was underwhelming, taking an east-west route to poor field position around the 10 yard line, instead of the preferred north-south route which, with a little seam or missed tackle, can lead to a bigger return- which Cordarrelle Patterson demonstrated so often in season’s past.
I’d like to see more attempts by Coley and McKinnon in the remaining pre-season games, to see if they can improve. If not Sherels, perhaps one of these two can add something to the kick return game, if not exactly replace Cordarrelle Patterson’s dynamic returns of seasons past.
The fact that the Vikings lost the game is inconsequential. To be honest, the only loss of consequence was the Seahawks loss of their starting left-tackle for the season with a torn ACL.
But overall the Vikings offense took a step forward- particularly the offensive line- while the defense took a step backward- particularly the secondary and pass coverage.
Red zone penalties continue to plaque as well. But it will be nice to get an extended view of the starters next week at home against the 49ers, particularly as it looks like all those who have missed pre-season action so far should be ready to play.
But there is still a lot for this Vikings team to improve if they want to play at home in February. The offensive line is encouraging, and the offensive performance generally minus the penalties. But the defensive secondary needs to come together, and the Vikings need to make some key player decisions to improve run defense.
The good news is the Vikings look to have the players to be at least be adequate at the weakest positions, and improved at several others- including both tackle spots, and running back to be sure.
Defensively the Vikings have the talent to be dominant, but still need to come together and gel as a unit. Sorting out the few starting questions should help, and getting those starters some extending playing time together should help too.
Next week will be an important dress rehearsal. The secondary needs to show its ready for Drew Brees and company week one- as well as the run defense for Adrian Peterson, Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara.
Offensively the Vikings are on the right track, but need to finish consistently by converting TDs in the red zone. They’re not going to show everything they have on offense in the pre-season- which will likely continue to be more vanilla- but they need to continue to execute well- and without key penalties.