After watching the Vikings lose their exhibition game 27-13 Friday night to the Houston Texans, Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman concluded that, like most preseason openers, there were positives and negatives.
“That’s what you expect in the first preseason game,” Spielman said. “I know [Vikings head] coach [Leslie] Frazier wanted to keep a lot of our starters out of there and they’ll ramp it up a little more this week against Buffalo. It was a great opportunity to see some of our young guys and see how they were going to perform under the lights for the first time.”
Spielman said he is excited about how the team’s three first-round draft picks have performed early on. He thinks they’re going to make major contributions to this club this year.
“The biggest one right now is [wide receiver Cordarrelle] Patterson and you have to watch and see if he can be a legitimate kickoff returner. I think he showed that in the first preseason game,” Spielman said. “I was surprised, he tripped and fell a little bit or I thought that was going to be a touchdown on his first touch. You can tell his athletic skill set there and his natural swagger he has with the ball in his hands. We’re very excited about what he could potentially bring not only as a receiver but as a returner.”
Then Spielman talked about another first-rounder in cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who didn’t get to play because of a slight injury. “We didn’t want him to get reinjured,” Spielman said.
Spielman also liked what he saw out of defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd before Floyd left the game because of a slight knee injury. No serious damage was found after Floyd received an MRI on Sunday.
“He made some big-time plays for us,” Spielman said. “We’re very excited about where those guys are at. Some of those down-the-line guys that we had later in the draft [such as guards Travis Bond and Jeff Baca], those guys you don’t get to notice them much because they’re on the offensive line, but when you go back and watch the tape, they’re going to learn the technique. But they showed a lot of positive signs, too.
“The two linebackers from Penn State [fourth-round pick Gerald Hodges and seventh-draft choice Michael Mauti] also did some positive things, but there were also a lot of things on that tape where they can watch and learn from it as well.”
As for rookie punter Jeff Locke, Spielman said the UCLA graduate probably didn’t have his best night when punting for distance.
“We’re trying to work a little bit with the directional punting with him,” Spielman said. “… Where he did shine was in those pooch situations where he does that Aussie-style kick. The next time you’re watching it, watch the flight of the ball because it almost has a reverse spin on it, almost like a kickoff.
“He did a great job getting a fair catch at the 10 and a fair catch at the 7-yard line. He was a little disappointed with how he punted in the open field.”
How tough will it be to cut this squad?
“There’s a lot of competition going on and a lot of guys fighting,” he said. “This is probably one of the most competitive camps that we’ve had. We don’t have to make our first cut until after the third preseason game and we’ll go down from 90 to 75. Then we play with a 75-man roster that last preseason game and then it will get real dicey from 75 down to 53 and then who are the guys that we’re going to keep on practice squads.
“But this weekend, I know that we had all of our college and pro scouts out at all these other preseason games. We’re looking at a lot of players, as we do every year, and we want to go out there and compare to what other teams have and who they potentially may cut and compare them to the guys that we can potentially replace on this roster.”
The Gophers had an important football intrasquad scrimmage Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium, and afterward coach Jerry Kill said: “We have gotten better. I think that we look better. We’re bigger, we’re stronger, all those kinds of things, but so is everyone else that we play. Everyone has gotten better.
“A lot of that credit goes to the strength staff and academic staff for getting us where we’re at. Now we have to do a good job of coaching them up. There’s a lot of good football teams out there.”
One thing Kill continues to worry about is the lack of upperclassmen on his team.
“I think the biggest concern I have is that at the end of the day we may only start one or two seniors on offense or three or four on defense,” he said. “For the most part it’s a redshirt freshman, freshman, sophomore ballclub. I’m just hoping they’re so young that they don’t figure it out and just go play.”
• For the first time in my memory, the Vikings and the Gophers will be competing for fans on Aug. 29, when the Gophers open the regular season facing UNLV at 6 p.m. and the Vikings play their final exhibition game against the Tennessee Titans at 7 p.m. And the State Fair will be in session, taking up most of the Gophers’ parking lots. Incidentally, the Twins play that day, too, but their game against the Royals is scheduled for 12:10 p.m.
• The sons of Vikings GM Rick Spielman — Ronnie, a senior, and J.D., a sophomore — are outstanding lacrosse players at Eden Prairie High School, good enough that both will get scholarships to play at Ohio State. “They were fortunate enough to get some scholarship aid to head down to Ohio State and play lacrosse,” Rick Spielman said. “I know the sport is really growing in the Big Ten with Maryland coming into the picture and Rutgers coming into the picture. Johns Hopkins is going to be part of the Big Ten just in men’s lacrosse. Big Ten and lacrosse is really spreading from the East out here to the Midwest.”
• Good move by Kill and Gophers athletic director Norwood Teague to promote Dan O’Brien, Kill’s right-hand man, to associate athletic director for football.
• Moses Alipate was a highly recruited player coming out of Bloomington Jefferson as a quarterback, was switched to tight end by Gophers coaches last year, saw limited service at that position and then wasn’t listed as one of the 105 players who could practice with the team before schools starts. Now a redshirt senior, Alipate still might get a chance to see some action, but at 281 pounds, he will have to lose a lot of weight if he wants to play.
• Ryan Harris, a former outstanding Cretin-Derham Hall offensive lineman, was on the Houston roster that faced the Vikings on Friday. Harris has played for Denver and Philadelphia already in his career.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. email@example.com