Wednesday of Week 1 has finally arrived, which means it’s time for the Vikings to put the pedal to the metal in their preparations for Sunday’s season-opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars. We’ll have a busy day at Winter Park today, with a morning walk-thru followed by a Leslie Frazier press conference, and then an afternoon practice with players available afterwards.
It all gets going later this morning. While you’re waiting for all of that, though, here are 10 Vikings-Jaguars storylines to follow this week…
1. Vikings Open Season At Home
For the first time since 2007 and just the second time since 2005, the Vikings will open the regular season at home. The Vikings logged a 24-3 win over the Atlanta Falcons and Adrian Peterson scored the first TD of his career the last time the Vikings opened a season at home. It’s a treat for the fans to open a season at home, and it’s a nice advantage for the team, too, after opening on the road the past four seasons. Expect Mall of America Field to be a loud and fun environment on Sunday.
2. Will Adrian Peterson Play?
The biggest talker surrounding this game all week will be the status of RB Adrian Peterson. He’s been determined to play in Week 1 throughout his entire rehab, and Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier has not ruled his star RB out. Frazier said on Monday that Peterson will be a game-time decision. If Peterson can’t play, the Vikings will place the ball in capable hands, with Toby Gerhart set to handle the job. If Peterson can play, the Vikings will have an outstanding one-two punch at RB.
3. How Much Will Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew Play?
Jacksonville has an issue of their own at RB. Their star – Maurice Jones-Drew – was a training camp holdout and didn’t report to the team until this week. Jones-Drew is one of the best RBs in the NFL, so the Jaguars likely aren’t too concerned about his readiness. But the fact remains Jones-Drew has been away for quite a while, and there will be somewhat of a learning curve for him as he gets back into football shape and learns the Jaguars new offense. Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey, a former Vikings TE, has said that Rashad Jennings will start the game, but he also disclosed that Jones-Drew will play.
4. First-Rounders Kalil, Blackmon And Smith Debut
Both the Vikings and Jaguars were active in the 1st round of the 2012 NFL Draft, and now both the Vikings and Jaguars hope their 1st-rounders will be active during the season. The Vikings originally held the #3 overall pick, but they traded with the Cleveland Browns and dropped back one spot. With the #4 overall pick, the Vikings selected LT Matt Kalil. The Jaguars originally held the #7 overall pick, but they moved up to the #5 position in a trade with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to select WR Justin Blackmon. Then later in the 1st round, the Vikings moved up to the #29 position to select S Harrison Smith.
This week, those three 1st-rounders will prepare for their NFL regular season debuts. Kalil will be Christian Ponder’s blindside protector, while Smith looks to help the Vikings secondary make big-time improvements from last season. Blackmon figures to play a key role in the Jaguars offense all season, as he’s coming off a productive preseason in which he showed the transition from college to the NFL will be no problem for him.
5. Clash Of 1st-Round QBs From Class Of 2011
Entering his second season, Vikings QB Christian Ponder is determined to show he can lead an NFL franchise to prominence. It’s only fitting, though, that Ponder begins that quest on Sunday against another QB looking to accomplish the same task for his franchise. While the Vikings selected Ponder with the #12 overall pick in 2011, the Jaguars moved to select Blaine Gabbert with the #10 overall pick.
As rookies last year, neither opened the regular season as their team’s starter. But both eventually ascended to the top of the depth chart. Gabbert got the nod in Week 3 after the Jaguars began the season 1-1, losing their Week 2 contest to the NY Jets by a score of 32-3. Ponder replaced Donovan McNabb in Week 6 during a game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field, and then the next week was named the Vikings starter for the remainder of the season.
All of that is in the past. Sunday represents the future, as Ponder and Gabbert will open the 2012 regular season as their teams’ starting QBs. Ponder enters the season coming off an offseason in which he displayed big-time improvement from his performance as a rookie and Gabbert enters the season coming off a preseason in which he also displayed significant improvement from his rookie performance.
6. Will A Vikings WR (Besides Percy Harvin) Step Up?
Jerome Simpson has impressed every step of the way since joining the Vikings this spring, but he’ll be unavailable to the team for the first three games of the season. That opens up an opportunity for another WR to step up and produce in Simpson’s absence. Granted, the vertical, field-stretching WR is not going to represent the bread-and-butter of the Vikings offense. Still, though, having that threat adds another element to game-planning for the opposing defense. Michael Jenkins is the reliable veteran; Devin Aromashodu impressed in the preseason finale and has good speed to stretch the defense; Stephen Burton is good after the catch and continues to progress; Jarius Wright looks more natural in the slot, but he impressed with a long reception in the preseason finale as well.
Will one (or more) of these guys step up? The opportunity is there.
7. John Carlson Making His Way Back
The Vikings moved this offseason to acquire TE John Carlson, giving them an athletic pass-catching TE to pair with another athletic pass-catching TE in Kyle Rudolph. The tandem of Carlson and Rudolph will allow Vikings Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave to draw up designs that will create mismatches in the middle of the field.
Unfortunately, Carlson injured his knee during training camp and wasn’t able to play in the preseason. Carlson has been making steady progress, though, and is getting closer to a return. On Monday, Frazier could not say if Carlson would make back to the field by this weekend, but the MN native has a chance. If he can play, the Vikings offense will have an added dimension and Ponder will have another talented target in the passing game.
8. Healing Ankles
Outside of Carlson, the Vikings stayed quite healthy all of training camp and the preseason. Until the fourth preseason game, that is. In that game, LB Marvin Mitchell, S Andrew Sendejo, CB Marcus Sherels and WR Jarius Wright all injured their ankles. It’s unknown if any of them will be able to play on Sunday, so it will be worth monitoring their status leading up to the game. Sherels is the Vikings punt returner and he’ll be involved in sub packages on defense, while Mitchell and Sendejo figure to be core special teams players. Wright has the makings of a dynamic playmaker, both on offense and as a returner, so the Vikings are hopeful he’ll be able to suit up in the season-opener.
9. Doleman To Receive Hall Of Fame Ring
Former Vikings DE Chris Doleman was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as part of the class of 2012 last month, and on Sunday the Vikings will present him with his Hall of Fame ring during a halftime ceremony.
10. Looking To Restore Home-Field Advantage
The Vikings have had a significant home-field advantage since moving into Mall of America Field in 1982. The team now has a combined record of 157-88-0 (.641) all-time at Mall of America Field, which includes a 6-4 mark in postseason games. The Vikings have gone undefeated 3 times at Mall of America Field (‘89, ‘98, ‘09) and have finished the season undefeated at home 8 total times in team history.
Unfortunately, the Vikings have gone just 5-11 at home the past two seasons. It’s time to turn that home record around, and this Sunday against the Jaguars in the season-opener is a good time to do it.
Tags: Adrian Peterson, Andrew Sendejo, Bill Musgrave, Christian Ponder, Harrison Smith, Jarius Wright, John Carlson, Kyle Rudolph, Leslie Frazier, Marcus Sherels, Marvin Mitchelel, Matt Kalil
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 44 Comments »