The Vikings preseason opener is tonight in Nashville against the Tennessee Titans. Here are five things to watch tonight when the Vikings and Titans clash in Nashville…
5. Mental mistakes, procedural penalties
No one on the field has a lack of competitive desire, but the truth of the matter is that the preseason is not about wins and losses. With the exception of guys at the bottom of the roster trying to bite, scratch and crawl for a spot, it’s about looking good, knocking the rust off and progressing every day. Coaches are more concerned about seeing zero missed assignments than they are about seeing 31 offensive points on the board. What we don’t want to see tonight are blitzers running free at Vikings QBs, running backs from the Titans bursting through the line of scrimmage without a hand on them and Vikings WRs cutting one way and the QB tossing a pass the other way. We also don’t want to see botched QB-center exchanges, false starts and illegal formation penalties.
4. The QB eye test
We’re going to have to go easy on crafting a water-tight judgment of Vikings QBs after this game. Remember, three of them are new Vikings (Rhett Bomar, Donovan McNabb and Christian Ponder) and the other (Joe Webb) may as well be new to the team because he’s learning a brand-new offense. With the lockout cancelling all offseason practices, offenses across the League have only just begun to install their strategies. So we’ll see a very vanilla style from the Vikings offense tonight, but I still want to see any Vikings QB who trots out there pass the eye test and at least look comfortable in all situations, whether it be a snap on first-and-ten or a pressure moment late in the half with time winding down and the defense dialing up a blitz.
3. Vikings pass rush
Jared Allen and Everson Griffen had great camps, but I’d like confirmation that they’re playing well tonight. Confirmation will come in the form of a few disruptive plays against the Titans. This might be a bit tougher to see from Allen because head coach Leslie Frazier may want to limit his reps to reduce exposure to injury, but I think Griffen will get plenty of reps tonight and I expect him to play well.
2. Kick and punt returners
The Vikings have a deep group of players competing for kick and punt return duties. This is an important role on the team not only because it helps the team win the field position battle, but also because anyone who can contribute on special teams will increase their chances of making the roster. If a WR can be relied upon to return kicks and cover kicks as well as run the correct routes on offense, he has a better chance to make the roster. If a RB can do the same while also showing good pass protection ability and a burst with the ball in his hands, then he has a better shot to make the roster. The same can be said for a CB trying to win the return job. RB Lorenzo Booker, WRs Stephen Burton, Percy Harvin and Jaymar Johnson and even a few members of the secondary are examples of players who can increase their value to the team by giving a good accounting of themselves in the return game.
1. Reserve offensive linemen
There are six offensive linemen you can count on (barring injury) being around once the regular season begins – LT Charlie Johnson, LG Steve Hutchinson, C John Sullivan, RGs Anthony Herrera and Chris DeGeare and RT Phil Loadholt. But who will fill in as reserves? The process of determining that begins tonight and, specifically, begins about midway through the first quarter when the starters will exit the game. Draft picks C Brandon Fusco and OT DeMarcus Love have had nice camps. The versatile Ryan Cook was brought back and could fill in anywhere. Veteran Scott Kooistra is a big body that can play both LT and RT. What about Seth Olsen, who filled in for Hutchinson at LG during camp a few times? There are several more names in the mix for reserve offensive linemen jobs and it’ll be interesting to see who plays well tonight.
Tags: Christian Ponder, Donovan McNabb, Everson Griffen, Jared Allen, Jaymar Johnson, Joe Webb, Lorenzo Booker, Percy Harvin, Rhett Bomar, Stephen Burton
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