Well kids, we made it. Football is back, as the Minnesota Vikings travel to Buffalo to face the Bills in the first of four pre-season games. I’m sure by the third quarter, we’ll all be clamoring for an end to the pre-season, but I actually like the first three games. We get to see our training camp hunches confirmed or blown out of the water, and these next four weeks become the ultimate Reality Competition for 90 guys scrambling for 53 spots.
So, let’s talk about some things to be on the look out for tomorrow night.
A crisp, efficient offense. I don’t expect the first team offense and defense to play a whole lot, maybe 2-3 drives. But those handful of plays should be enough to see if the offense can, as a minimum, get out of their own way. Too many times last year they were beset by a running game that was non-existent, complimenting a passing offense that was Sam Bradford getting no time to set up and throw. I’m excited to see RB Dalvin Cook carry the ball, and for the no-kidding revamped offensive line to pass protect and give Sam a clean pocket. Bradford has looked exceptional in training camp, and I want to see that carry over into the game. But Cook running and Sam throwing...or NOT running and throwing...will be determined by the line. Out of everything on offense, that’s what I’ll be keying on. We think they’re better; we’ll know a lot more on Friday morning.
Just how fierce is the defensive line? If the offensive line’s main question is ‘are they any good?’, on defense, so far the question has been ‘can anyone stop them?’ I think they might be a little over-hyped after going against what is still, probably, a below-average o-line, but this is still an exceptional unit. The defensive line also has a ridiculous amount of depth at every position, and how that flushes out as the pre-season progresses is going to be fascinating to watch. The defense as a whole should be one of the best in the league, but I’m not expecting a lot of the exotic psycho package-type stuff this early in the pre-season. It’s gonna be man on man football for the most part, and even in that scenario, I like most of the Vikings players to win their battles, at least on the first team. The one area on this side of the ball I’ll be looking at is the nickel corner position. Mackensie Alexander has had a mostly good camp, but I want to see if that translates into the game.
Who’s the backup QB? I think we all agree that at some point this season, Teddy Bridgewater will re-join the Vikings on the active roster. But whoever the backup is between now and whenever that point is is crucial, in case something happens to Sam. And so far, training camp for both Taylor Heinicke and Case Keenum has been more up and down than a yo-yo. The couple days I was up there, it felt like Heinicke was the clear number 2, and then he regressed. Keenum didn’t really step up, although he has played better than Heinicke in recent days, which still leaves the backup spot very unsettled. I want the backup quarterback to give me a feeling that is anything other than an impending sense of doom if/when he has to come in, be it for a play, a series, a quarter, or a game. I don’t care who it is, either.
Who wins the down roster wide receiver spots? This is one of the more intriguing battles in camp. Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Michael Floyd, and Laquon Treadwell seemed to have a hammer lock on the top four positions early in camp. But with Floyd facing a four game suspension to start the year, and Treadwell nursing an injury, there are opportunities here for guys to step up and make a name for themselves. Rodney Adams, Stacy Coley, and Caleb Jones have all shined at some point, and this will be an opportunity for one of these guys to separate from the pack. The amount of depth here has surprised me, and I’m eager to see some of these down roster guys in action. My money is on Adams and Jones, but that’s just me.
We gonna get a kicker out of this mess, or what? Neither Kai Forbath or Marshall Koehn has seemed to take command of this position, which leads me to think the Vikings would lean towards the veteran Forbath. But that’s speculation on my part, and there is a long way to go before cutdown day, which bodes well for Koehn. The Vikings have said all along that this is an open competition, so we’ll see how Koehn does under game conditions. This spot seems far from settled.
Please, for the love of all that’s good and holy, no injuries. The Vikings have already had a couple guys go down, and although none of the injuries are serious, it’s a carry over from last year when it felt at one point every starter going back seven years was on IR. Nagging injuries to Riley Reiff and Latavius Murray were dampers as camp opened, but they’re back. Injuries to Laquon Treadwell and Rashod Hill during camp were frustrating, but neither look to be long term issues. Each week in the pre-season, some starter on some team suffers a season ending injury. I would like to think the Vikings used their full allotment of injury bad luck last year, and can avoid the devastating injuries this year. Win, lose, or draw, let’s hope for an injury-free contest for both sides.
My prediction: I don’t care, it’s pre-season. But Mike Zimmer hates to lose pre-season games, so let’s call it 24-16 Vikings.