Preview: Vikings vs. Rams
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Who: Minnesota Vikings (0-0) at St. Louis Rams (0-0).
When: 7 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis.
TV: KARE, Ch. 11.
Line: Rams by 1½.
At stake: It's the preseason opener for both teams.
Vikings: WR Percy Harvin (migraines) and C John Sullivan (calf) won't play. TE Visanthe Shiancoe (unknown strain), MLB E.J. Henderson (leg surgery) and LB J Leman (turf toe) are questionable. RB Adrian Peterson (hamstring) may be held out as a precaution. WR Sidney Rice (hip) and CB Cedric Griffin (knee) are on the active/physically unable to perform list.
Rams: SS James Butler (knee), RG John Greco (pectoral) and LG Jacob Bell (abdominal) are out. RT Jason Smith (toe) is questionable.
Five things to watch
Corner competition: Veteran Lito Sheppard has gotten the most work at right cornerback with the Vikings' starting defense in camp, but the job remains wide open, with Griffin still sidelined and perhaps headed for the reserve/PUP to start the season. Asher Allen is the primary challenger and was listed atop a depth chart released this week. The dark horse is rookie Chris Cook, who has made more plays in camp than Sheppard and Allen combined, albeit against second- and third-string receivers. Coaches have kept Cook at left cornerback throughout the offseason, but Antoine Winfield has shown he's over his foot injury and doesn't require insurance. If Cook carries over his camp performance into the preseason, he's bound to get a shot to start eventually. Benny Sapp missed much of camp with hydration problems and needs to show up in games to push Allen and Sheppard for the nickel job. The entire group should play extensively.
Sage's big stage: QB Tarvaris Jackson only is slated to play one series, meaning QB Sage Rosenfels probably will see his most extensive action of the preseason. Rosenfels has done little in camp to suggest he could challenge Jackson for the top backup spot behind still-mulling starter Brett Favre. However, scouts say there would be a trade market if the Vikings shop Rosenfels upon Favre's return -- and the tape he produces against the Rams could buoy his stock. St. Louis ranked 31st last season in opponent passer rating (96.9), but it won't be easy for Rosenfels behind the second-string line and throwing to a bunch of young receivers.
Bradford's back: No. 1 overall draft pick Sam Bradford is expected to make his preseason NFL debut with the Rams' starting offense after starter-for-now A.J. Feeley leaves the game. It will be the first game action for Bradford -- who received a record $50 million in guarantees on the six-year, $78 million contract he signed last month -- since he sustained a shoulder injury in the third game of the University of Oklahoma's 2009 season. The Vikings' starters probably will be out of the game before Bradford enters, so he'll be facing a pass rush led by Brian Robison and a backup secondary featuring several players who could use a boost from a big play on the ball.
In the backfield: The Vikings traded up to get RB Toby Gerhart, penciled him as Peterson's top backup and gave him $2.259 million guaranteed to sign a four-year deal. In camp, though, he's been visible primarily when getting knocked on his butt. Games should be a truer test for a downhill runner whose success is predicated on his balance and ability to break tackles. Albert Young remains the No. 2 back for now and probably is a good bet to make the roster. But if something happens to Peterson, the Vikings most likely would count on the bigger, more physical Gerhart to shoulder the load. The heavier preseason workload should show what he's all about.
Feeling special: The Vikings have two significant questions on special teams -- who will handle punt returns, and is Rhys Lloyd valuable enough as a kickoff specialist for them to carry two kickers? A bunch of players -- including Darius Reynaud, Jaymar Johnson, Allen, Sheppard, Ray Small, Marcus Sherels -- have worked on punt returns during camp, with Allen getting the first reps this week. Ryan Longwell will handle all kicking duties in the first half at St. Louis, then give way to Lloyd, who has the stronger leg but never has attempted an NFL field goal. Both battles probably will take the full preseason to decide.