The Minnesota Vikings open their preseason on Saturday against the Denver Broncos. Here are 10 things Vikings fans should be watching for….
Kirk Cousins’ debut…sort of
It will still be one month until the Vikings’ starting quarterback takes a snap that matters, but Kirk Cousins will at least get his first chance to line up under center in a game as a Viking. Every player is thrilled to finally be facing off with another team after two weeks of training camp, but especially Cousins, who has done daily battle with the league’s best defense.
It would be surprising if Cousins played more than two or three drives.
Makeshift offensive line
The Vikings’ offensive line has already run into some bumps in the road. Starting left guard Nick Easton is out for the season, center Pat Elflein still hasn’t returned from offseason surgery and Mike Remmers has been out of practice with an ankle injury. That means veteran Tom Compton, second-year player Danny Isidora and 2017 practice squad player Cornelius Edison will make up the interior of the O-line. We should get a glimpse of the team’s depth.
Right tackle will be worth watching, too. Starter Rashod Hill has split reps with Brian O’Neill as he recovered from illness. He may not see a ton of action.
There is an intriguing competition going on behind Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray. In practice Mike Boone and Mack Brown appear to be neck-and-neck in the race with Roc Thomas behind them. Boone has received a lot of praise because of his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, but Cousins talked about wanting Brown to get more opportunities than he had in Washington. Thomas is a former five-star recruit who could surprise when he gets a shot.
Wide receiver battle
It’s hard to get a read on how the Vikings’ receiving corps will shake out. Former CFL’er Brandon Zylstra has made a strong impression while players with experience Tavarres King and Kendall Wright appear to be behind. Neither plays special teams either, which could impact the Vikings’ decision. Stacy Coley and Cayleb Jones were standouts in preseason last year. Both have a good chance to earn jobs again. The third-team receivers will need to prove they deserve more work. Chad Beebe, Korey Robertson and Jake Wieneke have yet to shine in camp.
First look at Mike Hughes and Brian O’Neill
The Vikings’ first two picks will hit the field for the first time on Saturday. Hughes’ snaps will be worth watching. Will he see any time with the first team? Will he play nickel or outside corner? How many punt/kick returns will he get?
For O’Neill, there’s a chance he could see a significant chunk of the game as the Vikings try to bring him along. The former Pitt tackle has gotten to face off with first-teamers on a routine basis in camp, so he could see action against Denver’s best.
Daniel Carlson and Kai Forbath have been neck and neck throughout camp, meaning the ultimate winner of the competition will be decided during preseason games. Carlson has a monster leg, which could mean wowing fans with deep kicks, but Forbath is more proven, hitting nearly 90 percent of field goals over the last two years. We could get a hint about which kicker is ahead by whoever gets the first kick.
Defensive line rotation
There’s no reason to play Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter and Brian Robison more than a handful of snaps max, so the backups will get their shot to prove they deserve playing time this season. Tashawn Bower has been a standout again at camp following his Mr. Mankato win in 2017. The undrafted rusher from LSU should be one of the first off the bench. Former seventh-round pick Stephen Weatherly is also likely to get significant playing time along with 2017 fourth-rounder Jaleel Johnson. Rookies Jalyn Holmes (fourth round) and Ade Aruna (sixth round) should also see their fair share of work.
Tight end snaps
There is a one-on-one competition for the third tight end spot between Blake Bell, who the Vikings acquired last year following camp, and fifth-round pick Tyler Conklin. Neither one has run out ahead of the other during the first two weeks at TCO Performance Center. Conklin isn’t blazing fast but has good hands while Bell is more experienced.
The Vikings will match up against their 2017 starting quarterback, who signed with Denver in the offseason. He will only be in the game for a handful of snaps but it will be interesting to get a look at him with another team that isn’t quite as stacked as the ‘17 Vikings.
Opportunity for Kyle Sloter
The Vikings’ third QB isn’t going to win the starting or backup job. Those are set. But he could begin to make an argument for a future gig, whether it’s with the Vikings as a backup or somewhere else. However, his camp thus far has been underwhelming.