Mike Zimmer wasn’t being hyperbolic when he said Tuesday that the Minnesota Vikings defense is so far along they could have played a game last week.
Every player on the first-team defense has been with the team since at least last year and many have played in Minnesota for Zimmer’s entire tenure.
The offense, however, is a different story. This offseason, the Vikings revamped their offensive line, signing tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers and drafted likely starting center Pat Elflein in the third round. They also added receiver Michael Floyd and running backs Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray.
So when the Vikings open up the preseason against the Buffalo Bills on Thursday night, Zimmer will be focusing on the offense to grade their progress in Mankato.
“Offensively we’ve been kind of working with the system and exploring some different options and things,” Zimmer said. “Think for them it will be good to go against someone else to gage where we’re at.”
While Zimmer wouldn’t say exactly how long Sam Bradford and the first team will play, there are likely to be some players mixed in with the second team, possibly with different roles.
“We’ll have some guys play a little bit longer,” Zimmer said. “when the first group goes out maybe we’ll keep some other guys in and maybe look at some different combinations of things.”
The most obvious “different combinations” that the Vikings could use are on the interior offensive line. During practice, centers Nick Easton and Pat Elflein have occasionally taken snaps at guard. We could see both on the field at the same time against the Bills.
At wide receiver, Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen aren’t likely to play much, but Jarius Wright could see extended time as the Vikings continue to evaluate where he fits in the offense. Wright has been taking first-team snaps with Laquon Treadwell sidelined.
Running back could be another area where the Vikings experiment. Jerick McKinnon and Dalvin Cook have lined up at receiver at different times during camp. Will they show opponents that using them in receiver roles is possible? Will they share the field at any point? And how often will we see fullback CJ Ham in the mix?
Once the second team and third teams do take the field, the backup quarterback performances will be worth watching. Zimmer said Tuesday that neither Case Keenum or Taylor Heinicke has the lead in the competition for QB2.