NEW ORLEANS – While the Vikings opted to give most of their starters at least a dose of playing time in their preseason opener, they exercised caution with a handful who have been injured during training camp.
Defensive tackles Shamar Stephen and Linval Joseph, as well as offensive tackle Brian O’Neill, were among nine players who did not dress for the Vikings’ 34-25 victory over the Saints on Friday night. The Vikings also held out running back Dalvin Cook, whom coach Mike Zimmer wanted to keep off the new Superdome turf.
Stephen began the preseason on the non-football injury list; Joseph appears to be rehabbing his shoulder most of training camp (though Zimmer has not disclosed where Joseph had offseason surgery). Both players have been held out of most team drills during camp. O’Neill missed practice time this week because of a right arm injury.
The Vikings started Jalyn Holmes and Jaleel Johnson in place of Stephen and Joseph. Rashod Hill started at right tackle for O’Neill.
Cornerback Kris Boyd, who has had some impressive moments in training camp, also sat out in the only surprise among the Vikings’ inactives. Defensive end Ade Aruna (who tore his ACL last year) sat out, as did tackle Aviante Collins, who suffered a left leg injury in training camp.
Cornerback Mike Hughes and tight end David Morgan — both on the physically-unable-to-perform list — and defensive end Tashawn Bower (who is on the non-football injury list) also did not play Friday.
Losing first challenge
Zimmer has said this summer he’s planning to make liberal use of his challenge flag during the preseason, to get an idea of how officials will handle things in light of the NFL’s new rules that make pass interference calls reviewable. In the first game in the Superdome since the infamous no-call that likely cost the Saints a trip to the Super Bowl and prompted the NFL’s rule change, it didn’t take long for Zimmer to put the new regulations to the test.
It also didn’t take him long to realize he had made a mistake.
He threw his challenge flag on the Saints’ fifth offensive play, looking for possible offensive pass interference on a Teddy Bridgewater screen to Alvin Kamara that gained 9 yards. Officials upheld the play, saying there was no interference, and the Saints went on to kick a field goal on the drive.
“That was a bad challenge,” Zimmer said. “One of the coaches yelled on that play — typically, guys are blocking downfield, and so I heard him say that. I didn’t see the replay, I threw it out there, and when I looked at the replay, I said, ‘That wasn’t very good.’ I wanted to challenge a couple others tonight, but I didn’t really get an opportunity.”
Smith’s surprise party
Before he turned 21 on Friday, Vikings second-round draft pick Irv Smith Jr. celebrated his birthday with family and friends at a surprise party in his hometown on Thursday night. The tight end dined at New Orleans’ Palace Cafe, eating stuffed fish and bread pudding along with the cake his mother made.
On Friday night, playing in the stadium where his father spent five years with the Saints, he was targeted seven times in the first half, catching three passes for 21 yards. Smith also was called for a couple of penalties in the second quarter.
Smith was flagged for holding from the New Orleans 15-yard line, pushing the Vikings out of the red zone before Ameer Abdullah’s fumble ended the drive.
At the end of the first half, he caught a 21-yard pass from Sean Mannion, but the play was wiped out because of an illegal formation penalty on Smith for lining up in the wrong spot. Wide receiver Laquon Treadwell also was penalized for a blindside block on the play, but the Saints chose to accept the penalty on Smith instead.