Preseason primer: 5 things to focus on during Vikings vs. Titans
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The Minnesota Vikings (3-0) kickoff against the Tennessee Titans (2-1) at 7 p.m. CT on Thursday from LP Field.
Three interceptions from the Vikings' defense helped lead to a 30-12 win over the Kansas City Chiefs last week; the Titans' 11 fourth-quarter points were enough for a 24-17 win against the Atlanta Falcons on Aug. 23.
1. Players on the bubble - The Vikings will be without a host of players (Phil Loadholt, Anthony Barr, Michael Mauti, Brandon Watts, Rodney Smith and Jamarca Sanford) on Thursday night as fringe players fight for a spot on the 53-man roster, which has to be decided upon by 3 p.m. CT on Saturday. The thin linebacker corps means Larry Dean, Justin Jackson and Mike Zimmer will get long looks on defense as Gerald Hodges' availability is also in question with an ankle injury. Rookie Antone Exum could also see his first defensive snaps since the preseason opener, while rookie Shamar Stephen continues his push for a roster spot with Linval Joseph">Linval Joseph still sitting out. Also watch the offensive line as Antonio Richardson and Austin Wentworth play for the swing tackle role. At this point, I believe both UDFA additions are practice squad candidates, however there's still time to make an impression. Mike Remmers is also an option.
2. Sticking out at safety - The Vikings have one exhibition and one week of practice left before needing to decide on a starting strong safety. Chris Crocker, Andrew Sendejo, Robert Blanton and Kurt Coleman figure to be the top candidates left after Sanford missed more time to injury this week. Defensive coordinator George Edwards left open the possibility of the Vikings using more than two safeties during the season: "That could come to fruition if we need to use different positions and different guys in positions in different packages. I could see that, it just depends on from week-to-week who we're playing."
3. Competition behind Rudolph - The next 10 days will be crucial for tight end Chase Ford, who was activated off the PUP list this week after recovering from a broken foot. Tonight, he could take his first step toward revealing to the new coaching staff the potential he showed late last season when filling in for both Kyle Rudolph and John Carlson. Before Ford's injury, he was assumed to be the pass-catching complement to Rudolph in Norv Turner's offense, however Allen Reisner has made a push this preseason for that role with Ford out. If Ford continues to sit out, watch to see if Reisner (three TDs on last four catches) runs away with the job.
4. Ponder's extended play - Could this be the last time we see Christian Ponder play for the Vikings? Zimmer didn't reveal if Teddy Bridgewater would start, leaving the possibility that Matt Cassel may see some work. However, Ponder saw an increased workload in practice this week in preparation for an extended look in the second half of the preseason finale. Ponder hasn't played since the Vikings' preseason opener, in which he completed 3-of-7 passes and took three sacks. If the Vikings are trying to shop their former first-round pick, his play against the Titans could go a long way in finding a suitor.
5. MLB please stand up - One more game to find a starting middle linebacker between Jasper Brinkley and Audie Cole. Zimmer noted the Vikings may stay in more base defenses with three linebackers to further evaluate both candidates. However, Brinkley was thrown into some nickel packages last week, which says to me he's the leading candidate, and he could very well see similar looks as the Vikings test out his range at the position.
Extra point: As the Vikings continue to search for a third cornerback in nickel packages, look for Marcus Sherels or Josh Robinson to get the nod in their 'starting' nickel when Captain Munnerlyn moves into the slot. Robinson played just seven snaps in his preseason debut against the Chiefs, but Zimmer gave a vote of confidence this week to Robinson, who has struggled with injuries all offseason: "I'm confident and hopeful [Robinson] will progress to where we need him to be." Sherels led all Vikings defenders in snaps in both recent exhibitions and should be Robinson's only challenger at this point for the third cornerback role. Shaun Prater nabbed an interception against the Chiefs and he'll need to continue that type of play tonight in order to make a late push.