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Updated: August 15th, 2013 8:12pm
Zulgad: 3 things to keep a close eye on in Vikings' second preseason game

Zulgad: 3 things to keep a close eye on in Vikings' second preseason game

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

After being in for only two plays in the Minnesota Vikings' preseason opener last week, Christian Ponder is expected to get at least the first quarter of Friday's game at Buffalo.

Vikings coach Leslie Frazier also will get his first look at rookie cornerback Xavier Rhodes and veteran linebacker Desmond Bishop, who sat out against Houston because injuries.

In other words, this game should serve as much better practice for the upcoming season than the Houston game did.

Here are three things we're curious to see on Friday and one thing we have no interest in witnessing.

WANT TO SEE

Familiar feeling: Ponder's only two passes a week ago went to Jerome Simpson. The first resulted in a 15-yard completion and the second, a poor throw, was tipped by Simpson and intercepted.

Ponder needs to get work with his wide receivers in game situations, and while having Simpson serve as a bigger part of the offense in 2013 would be nice, he's not going to be the guy the quarterback looks to on a consistent basis.

Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson are the two wide outs we really want to see Ponder work with on Friday.

The reports from Mankato were that Jennings runs his routes in an aggressive manner and Ponder was getting used to this. Clearly the goal is for the Ponder-Jennings combination to be clicking by the regular-season opener on Sept. 8 in Detroit.

Considering Ponder and Jennings have had numerous offseason practices and now an entire training camp to work together, it would be disappointing if there isn't a chemistry that develops very soon.

The Vikings also would be wise to make sure Ponder is completely comfortable with Patterson, the third of the Vikings' three first-round picks. Patterson caught four passes for 54 yards against Houston but those were thrown by backup Matt Cassel.

Patterson appears to have a world of talent, but he's going to make some rookie mistakes and there will be occasions when it will be on Ponder to help make Patterson look good.

Nickel for your thoughts: The key here will be continuing to evaluate Josh Robinson and whether the second-year cornerback can take over for Antoine Winfield and handle the role of playing inside when five defensive backs are on the field.

Winfield, who is now with the Seattle Seahawks, provided Frazier with a security blanket last season because of his ability to serve as almost a corner/linebacker in the nickel. The veteran also was one of the Vikings' most savvy players and rarely, if ever, got fooled.

The same simply can't be expected of Robinson.

A third-round pick in 2012, he is new to playing inside and is going to have to be a quick study. Friday, will give the Vikings their first real chance to see where Robinson is at after working at his new spot in the offseason and training camp.

Rhodes' availability also means the Vikings will get their first in-game look at Chris Cook and Rhodes playing the corners with Robinson covering the slot receiver.

Can't be weak: When the Vikings signed Desmond Bishop after he was released by the Green Bay Packers in June, the popular theory was that the veteran would take over as the middle linebacker and Erin Henderson would shift back to the weak side after being moved in the offseason.

That hasn't happened and there now appears a better chance Bishop will be released than there is that he will end up in the middle.

Bishop, who has been playing on the weak side with the second team, missed all of last season because of a hamstring injury and sat out against Houston because of a groin injury. He is going to need to show the Vikings something if he's going to stick around, or have a chance to beat out Marvin Mitchell for a starting job on the outside.

Frazier is rarely critical of his players in the media and usually saves his motivational tactics for face-to-face meetings. That's what made Frazier's recent quote on Bishop so interesting.

"This is going to determine whether or not he makes our team," Frazier told the Star Tribune. "So much of this is about how he plays over the next two weeks. Or if he's not available because of his injury. I can't say it any simpler than that. It's a big two weeks for him. He needs to show us he can help our football team in order to make our team."

If Bishop didn't believe his roster spot was in jeopardy before that, he sure had to know it after he saw Frazier's quote. A poor performance against the Bills could help speed Bishop's exit from Minnesota.

DON'T WANT TO SEE

Let him sit: Adrian Peterson came within 9 yards of breaking Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record last season, going for 2,097 yards. Peterson did this after tearing the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee late in the 2011 season and then not playing in a preseason game in 2012.

The view from here used to be that it was a good idea to get Peterson a few preseason carries. I've realized something about that opinion: It was dumb.

Peterson doesn't need to carry the football in meaningless games.

Peterson is a guy who almost never passes up the opportunity to tell you how much he wants to play and even he sounded unconvinced this week that he needs to get work in the exhibition season.

Frazier has indicated that Peterson might get a few carries against either the Bills or the following Sunday at San Francisco. Here's a suggestion for Frazier: If you think you're going to be tempted to do this, just leave Peterson home.

The NFL's best running back will be ready to go, and completely healthy, for the regular-season opener and that's all that matters. 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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