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Three players to watch: Vikings vs. Saints

Football’s back!

NCAA Football: Mountain West Championship-Fresno State at Boise State Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

I said it last year, and I’ll say it again: Man, I’m glad football is back.

Some hate the preseason, some love the preseason. I’m someone who appreciates preseason football, simply to watch the guys who have to grind to make a 53-man roster. Some of those guys you’ll never see play another snap in the regular season.

The Minnesota Vikings will travel to face the New Orleans Saints on Aug. 9 for its first preseason game. Kick-off is set for 7 p.m.

Here’s this week’s three players to keep an eye on Friday night.

Alexander Mattison

The former Boise State University running back has been turning some heads throughout training camp, but can he live up to the hype. With the preseason just getting started, it will almost be certain that neither side will see much first team reps. It also won’t be a surprise to see Dalvin Cook only be in for one series or drive.

Mattison’s listed as Cook’s backup on the early depth chart. However, Ameer Abdullah is right behind Mattison and I don’t think a veteran will let a rookie just snatch a potential backup role from him. Mattison will have to work for it and he’ll be doing that against second and third string players.

The five-foot-11-inch, 221 pound third-round draft pick led the Mountain West Conference with 2,829 rush yards, in Mattison’s three years as a Bronco. That put him 10th in Boise State history. Mattison was on the watch list for the Doak Walker award, an award that honors the best running back in college football.

Hercules Mata’afa

Mata’afa suffered a torn ACL during OTAs last season. He found a way to grind back and is hungry to make sure he makes the Vikings 53-man roster. The six-foot-two-inch, 254 pound defensive tackle doesn’t want to just make the roster, but become one of the games best.

Only one way to see if he still has the traits he had before his injury: Give the guy live reps. The 23-year old made a jump to defensive tackle this season where the coaching staff will have him in the three-tech position. Mata’afa can be extremely beneficial in third-down pass rush scenarios.

Some experts were surprised when the Washington State alum went undrafted in the 2018 NFL Draft. Mata’afa was the 2017 AP Pac-12 conference Defensive Player of the Year. He recorded nine and a half sacks, along with 21.5 tackles for loss of yards in his last season as a Cougar.

One side note: In 2017, Washington and Washington State battled each other. Current Vikings quarterback Jake Browning was the Huskies quarterback at the time. Mata’afa was on the on the other side of the ball and was ejected after this hit to the head on Browning:

I wonder if the two have talked about it since becoming teammates?

Teddy Bridgewater

Always a fan favorite, Bridgewater will face his old team and will likely see a lot of snaps because Drew Brees is and will be the leader of the Saints’ offense. Bridgewater’s devastating knee injury and just being the character he is, really gained Minnesota’s support, as Vikings fans continued to cheer for his recovery and current growth since then.

Bridgewater started in 28 games over his three seasons with the Vikings. He posted a 17-11 record while throwing for over 6,100 yards, 28 touchdowns, 22 interceptions and a completion rate of 64.7 percent. Don’t forget about his 2015 Pro Bowl appearance.

Bridgewater signed a one-year, 7.25 million dollar contract back in March, including a six million dollar signing bonus. Last season he played in five games for the Saints, with one start. He went 0-1, completed 14 out of 23 passes, threw one touchdown and an interception. This is Bridgewater’s season to prove he’s healthy and prove he can be a starter for an NFL team once again.