Minnesota Vikings have many subplots as preseason kicks off

  • Article by: DAN WIEDERER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 9, 2013 - 9:11 AM

Finally. Football returns to Mall of America Field on Friday. Vikings-Texans, 7 p.m.

Get excited. But understand the disclaimers. Vikings coach Leslie Frazier isn’t concerned with the score.

“From a win-loss standpoint, there’s not a lot of credence in it,” Frazier said earlier this week. “So we’re just doing the things that are necessary to evaluate our players.”

That’s hardly breaking news. It’s more a reminder that the headliner stars (see: Peterson, Adrian; Allen, Jared) won’t put on a uniform. They almost certainly will be joined in the night off by other prominent starters and notable players nursing injuries. Plus those starters who do play likely will finish their night midway through the first half.

Translation: The preseason opener will become a full-on assessment of the bottom half of the roster.

Still, there will be plenty to track. So here’s a three-tiered guide for what to watch:

Offense

The obvious story line: Christian Ponder and the first-team offense might only play through the first quarter. So there won’t be a huge body of work to judge. But as Ponder stated Wednesday, it’s imperative he remain crisp with his fundamentals while continuing to developing a rhythm with receivers. Most of all, Ponder certainly would benefit from reminding local fans of the poise and precision he displayed the last time he played a home game, uncorking a 234-yard, three-TD, zero-turnover effort in a playoff-clinching victory over Green Bay.

Under the microscope: The Vikings stand firmly behind Ponder and believe he’ll keep his starting role secure for 16 games. On the outside, however, there’s curiosity regarding when, not if, a Ponder-Matt Cassel quarterback debate will mushroom. Cassel will take his first game snaps as a Viking on Friday. In assessing his play, keep the strength of the defense in mind. But it’s also a must that the veteran backup be judged on his decisionmaking and ability to move the ball consistently.

Position battle: Write in ink Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jerome Simpson and Jarius Wright as locks for the 53-man roster. So that leaves only one guaranteed open spot (possibly two) for the other eight Vikings receivers. Joe Webb and Stephen Burton appear to be the front-runners. Chris Summers and Adam Thielen could also make a push in the next few weeks, though they more likely fit as practice squad candidates. Still, Frazier has made it clear that preseason game action will be a heavy determining factor in sorting out the pecking order.

“From a practice standpoint, I think we’re where we need to be,” Frazier said. “But there’s a difference in lining up and playing a game against other competition and different defenses.”

Defense

The obvious story line: Rookies, rookies everywhere. First-round pick Xavier Rhodes likely will be held out because of a sore hamstring, though after Wednesday’s practice he said he was itching to play. But Rhodes isn’t the only draft pick eyeing an emergence under coordinator Alan Williams. Keep an eye on Sharrif Floyd, a defensive tackle with elite quickness off the snap and a knack for being a disruptive force against both the run and the pass. Rookie linebackers Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti also will see extended time, looking to carve out their niches on defense and special teams.

Under the microscope: The cornerback unit is young, unproven and without a surplus of established depth. Chris Cook, suddenly the group’s leader, still is searching for his first career interception. Josh Robinson continues his transition into an unfamiliar role as the top slot corner. And Rhodes knows he will face a steep rookie learning curve. A.J. Jefferson, the team’s No. 4 corner, has battled an ankle issue all week. Which means, yes, there’s a chance Brandon Burton enters Friday’s game as a starter in nickel, with Bobby Felder and Roderick Williams also looking to make a splash. Finding comfort with these corners is going to take time.

Position battle: Erin Henderson will be the opening-day starter at middle linebacker with Chad Greenway beside him on the strong side. But what about the rest of the linebacking depth chart? Marvin Mitchell remains the starter on the weak side as Desmond Bishop (groin) continues dealing with injury difficulties. Mauti faces an uphill battle to overtake Audie Cole as Henderson’s backup in the middle. And Larry Dean, a special teams ace, remains listed as the No. 2 on the strong side but might be overtaken soon by Hodges. On pure numbers alone, by month’s end, a couple of pretty strong linebackers will be released.

Special teams

The obvious story line: Blair Walsh’s introduction to the Mall of America Field fans came by way of a five-field-goal outburst in a preseason victory over Buffalo last year. Walsh went on to become a surprising All-Pro selection. So yeah, punter Jeff Locke, a fifth-round pick, has a tough act to follow in quickly proving himself as a rookie. The left-footer is a diligent worker and has been plenty receptive to coaching during training camp. Now he must find a way surpass the productivity of predecessor Chris Kluwe, a process that takes its next step Friday.

Under the microscope: Don’t take Walsh’s All-Pro status as a promise for 2013 prosperity. Locke is his new holder, and the field goal operation still isn’t quite as smooth timing-wise as coordinator Mike Priefer wants it. During last weekend’s under-the-lights practice, Walsh went 7-for-10 during the field goal period, with one of his misses coming as a result of a bad Cullen Loeffler snap. Walsh also made a 42-yarder despite Locke bungling the hold initially. Even after consecutive misses, Walsh finished that period by requesting and crushing a 60-yard attempt. Said Priefer: “He missed two and said let’s take it back to 60. That was him the other night, not me. [With] his mental toughness, he doesn’t blink.”

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Cleveland 4 Suspended
Kansas City 2
Baltimore - W. Chen 6:05 PM
NY Yankees - M. Pineda
Kansas City - D. Duffy 6:05 PM
Cleveland - C. Carrasco
Seattle - J. Paxton 6:07 PM
Toronto - J. Happ
Chicago WSox - C. Bassitt 6:08 PM
Detroit - K. Lobstein
Pittsburgh - F. Liriano 6:10 PM
Atlanta - A. Harang
Houston - N. Tropeano 7:05 PM
Texas - D. Holland
St. Louis - A. Wainwright 7:05 PM
Chicago Cubs - T. Wood
Arizona - J. Collmenter 7:10 PM
Minnesota - R. Nolasco
LA Angels - C. Wilson 9:05 PM
Oakland - J. Samardzija
San Francisco - J. Peavy 9:10 PM
Los Angeles - D. Haren
Colorado - T. Matzek 9:10 PM
San Diego - E. Stults
San Diego 22 FINAL
Buffalo 10
Dallas 34 FINAL
St. Louis 31
Washington 34 FINAL
Philadelphia 37
Houston 17 FINAL
NY Giants 30
Minnesota 9 FINAL
New Orleans 20
Tennessee 7 FINAL
Cincinnati 33
Baltimore 23 FINAL
Cleveland 21
Green Bay 7 FINAL
Detroit 19
Indianapolis 44 FINAL
Jacksonville 17
Oakland 9 FINAL
New England 16
San Francisco 14 FINAL
Arizona 23
Denver 20 FINAL
Seattle 26
Kansas City 34 FINAL
Miami 15
Pittsburgh 37 FINAL
Carolina 19
Chicago 7:30 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 9/25/14 7:25 PM
Washington
Ottawa 12:30 PM
NY Islanders
Ottawa 5:00 PM
NY Islanders
New Jersey 6:00 PM
NY Rangers
Detroit 6:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Toronto 6:00 PM
Philadelphia
Washington 6:00 PM
Philadelphia
Minnesota 7:00 PM
Winnipeg
St. Louis 7:30 PM
Dallas
Anaheim 8:00 PM
Colorado
Colorado 9:00 PM
Anaheim
Los Angeles 9:00 PM
Arizona
Arizona 9:30 PM
Los Angeles
Old Dominion 45 FINAL
Rice 42
Troy 0 FINAL
(12) Georgia 66
Georgia Tech 27 FINAL
Virginia Tech 24
Eastern Mich 14 FINAL
(9) Michigan State 73
Iowa 24 FINAL
Pittsburgh 20
Bowling Green 17 FINAL
(19) Wisconsin 68
Maryland 34 FINAL
Syracuse 20
Tulane 13 FINAL
Duke 47
Hawaii 12 FINAL
Colorado 21
Marshall 48 FINAL
Akron 17
North Carolina 41 FINAL
(23) East Carolina 70
Army 21 FINAL
Wake Forest 24
Virginia 33 FINAL
(20) BYU 41
(6) Texas A&M 58 FINAL
SMU 6
Rutgers 31 FINAL
Navy 24
Central Mich 10 FINAL
Kansas 24
Utah 26 FINAL
Michigan 10
Florida 21 FINAL
(3) Alabama 42
Louisville 34 FINAL
FIU 3
Fla Atlantic 19 FINAL
Wyoming 20
Indiana 31 FINAL
Missouri 27
San Jose St 7 FINAL
Minnesota 24
Texas State 35 FINAL
Illinois 42
Massachusetts 7 FINAL
Penn State 48
Georgia State 14 FINAL
Washington 45
Appalachian St 20 FINAL
Southern Miss 21
(14) Miss State 34 FINAL
(17) LSU 29
Northern Ill 14 FINAL
Arkansas 52
Middle Tennessee 17 FINAL
Memphis 36
Utah State 14 FINAL
Arkansas State 21
Miami-Ohio 24 FINAL
Cincinnati 31
Idaho 24 FINAL
Ohio U 36
Ball State 23 FINAL
Toledo 34
(13) So Carolina 48 FINAL
Vanderbilt 34
(4) Oklahoma 45 FINAL
West Virginia 33
Ga Southern 28 FINAL
South Alabama 6
UNLV 14 FINAL
Houston 47
Miami-Florida 31 FINAL
(21) Nebraska 41
New Mexico 38 FINAL
New Mexico St 35
Clemson 17 FINAL
(1) Florida State 23
California 45 FINAL
Arizona 49
San Diego St 7 FINAL
Oregon State 28
(2) Oregon 38 FINAL
Washington St 31
Louisiana 9 FINAL
Boise State 34
Texas Tech 9/25/14 6:30 PM
(24) Oklahoma State
Appalachian St 9/25/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
(11) UCLA 9/25/14 9:00 PM
(15) Arizona State
Middle Tennessee 9/26/14 7:00 PM
Old Dominion
Fresno State 9/26/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
Texas-El Paso 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(25) Kansas State
Tennessee 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(12) Georgia
Vanderbilt 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Kentucky
Wyoming 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(9) Michigan State
Northwestern 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
TCU 9/27/14 11:00 AM
SMU
Iowa 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Tulane 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Rutgers
So Florida 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(19) Wisconsin
Colorado State 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Western Mich 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Virginia Tech
Maryland 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Indiana
Akron 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Pittsburgh
Bowling Green 9/27/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Arkansas 9/27/14 2:30 PM
(6) Texas A&M
Kent State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Virginia
Western Ky 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Navy
Minnesota 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Michigan
Wake Forest 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Louisville
FIU 9/27/14 2:30 PM
UAB
(1) Florida State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
NC State
Miami-Ohio 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Colorado 9/27/14 3:00 PM
California
Louisiana Tech 9/27/14 3:00 PM
(5) Auburn
Texas 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Kansas
Temple 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Connecticut
(16) Stanford 9/27/14 3:15 PM
Washington
TX-San Antonio 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Fla Atlantic
South Alabama 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Idaho
Cincinnati 9/27/14 5:00 PM
(22) Ohio State
Rice 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
Missouri 9/27/14 6:00 PM
(13) So Carolina
Boise State 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Air Force
North Carolina 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Clemson
Central Mich 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Toledo
Troy 9/27/14 6:00 PM
ULM
New Mexico St 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(17) LSU
Memphis 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(10) Ole Miss
Duke 9/27/14 6:30 PM
Miami-Florida
Texas State 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Washington St 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Utah
(8) Notre Dame 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Syracuse
(7) Baylor 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Iowa State
UNLV 9/27/14 7:00 PM
San Diego St
Illinois 9/27/14 8:00 PM
(21) Nebraska
Oregon State 9/27/14 9:30 PM
(18) USC
Nevada 9/27/14 9:30 PM
San Jose St
Toronto 40 FINAL
Brt Columbia 23
Edmonton 23 FINAL
Hamilton 25
Calgary 15 FINAL
Montreal 31
Ottawa 32 FINAL
Saskatchewan 35
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Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pm
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pm
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit Noon
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo Noon
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay Noon
Nov 2 - vs. Washington Noon
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago Noon
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay Noon
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina Noon
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets Noon
Dec 14 - at Detroit Noon
Dec 21 - at Miami Noon
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago Noon

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