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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Buffalo 17 FINAL
New England 9
Cleveland 10 FINAL
Baltimore 20
Dallas 44 FINAL
Washington 17
Indianapolis 27 FINAL
Tennessee 10
Jacksonville 17 FINAL
Houston 23
San Diego 7 FINAL
Kansas City 19
NY Jets 37 FINAL
Miami 24
Chicago 9 FINAL
Minnesota 13
Philadelphia 34 FINAL
NY Giants 26
New Orleans 23 FINAL
Tampa Bay 20
Carolina 34 FINAL
Atlanta 3
Detroit 20 FINAL
Green Bay 30
Oakland 14 FINAL
Denver 47
Arizona 17 FINAL
San Francisco 20
St. Louis 6 FINAL
Seattle 20
Cincinnati 17 FINAL
Pittsburgh 27
Arizona 1/3/15 3:35 PM
Carolina
Baltimore 1/3/15 7:15 PM
Pittsburgh
Detroit 103 FINAL
Cleveland 80
Houston 106 FINAL
San Antonio 110
Oklahoma City 107 FINAL
Dallas 112
New York 79 FINAL
Portland 101
Toronto 116 FINAL
Denver 102
Phoenix 116 FINAL
LA Lakers 107
Toronto 4 FINAL
Florida 6
Vancouver 1 FINAL(OT)
Anaheim 2
Tulane 57 FINAL
St Johns 82
Central Conn St 48 FINAL
Connecticut 81
Iona 81 FINAL
Drexel 62
Concordia (MI) 42 FINAL
Eastern Mich 100
Harvard 46 FINAL
Arizona State 56
Longwood 64 FINAL
Ball State 69
Sacred Heart 76 FINAL
Brown 79
Colgate 64 FINAL
Columbia 69
MD-Eastern Shore 78 FINAL
Duquesne 69
UNC Greensboro 50 FINAL
East Carolina 71
Marist 64 FINAL
Elon 69
NJIT 71 FINAL
Lafayette 76
Cincinnati Christian 58 FINAL
Liberty 78
Morgan State 53 FINAL
Marquette 81
Campbell 56 FINAL
Samford 65
Bucknell 71 FINAL
Siena 73
Long Beach State 67 FINAL
Syracuse 85
Coppin State 80 FINAL
Evansville 85
UMKC 73 FINAL
Indiana State 70
Hofstra 88 FINAL
Long Island 62
Coast Guard 48 FINAL
Army 93
Thomas (GA) 48 FINAL
High Point 85
Texas Southern 58 FINAL
Kansas State 56
Rutgers 59 FINAL
Monmouth 58
NC Wesleyan 54 FINAL
NC A&T 58
South Dakota St 63 FINAL
Northern Iowa 74
Central Penn College 69 FINAL
Radford 119
Bowling Green 79 FINAL
South Florida 70
Harris-Stowe 66 FINAL
SE Missouri St 94
Robert Morris-IL 56 FINAL
SIU Edwardsville 104
Northland College 59 FINAL
North Dakota St 83
Milwaukee 60 FINAL
South Dakota 84
Northwestern St 92 FINAL
Arkansas 100
Saint Peters 59 FINAL
Cornell 52
St Katherine 62 FINAL
Fresno State 93
Haskell 42 FINAL
Oral Roberts 94
Wake Forest 65 FINAL
Richmond 63
Fla Gulf Coast 57 FINAL
Xavier 71
SD Christian 45 FINAL
Northern Ariz 71
Judson 46 FINAL
IUPU-Ft Wayne 80
Ill-Chicago 60 FINAL
Bradley 68
Loyola-Maryland 61 FINAL
Fairfield 59
Miss Valley St 53 FINAL
Houston 80
Lehigh 58 FINAL
UMBC 55
Delaware State 56 FINAL
Temple 66
Belmont 56 FINAL
Butler 67
Howard 59 FINAL
Fordham 74
NW Christian 67 FINAL
Nevada 81
UC Davis 83 FINAL
Washington St 90
Abilene Christian 81 FINAL
Grand Canyon 83
UCLA 50 FINAL
Alabama 56
Stony Brook 62 FINAL
Washington 57
Buffalo 56 FINAL
Wisconsin 68
CS-Bakersfield 55 FINAL
California 52
Cincinnati 17 FINAL
Virginia Tech 33
(15) Arizona State 36 FINAL
Duke 31
Miami-Florida 21 FINAL
So Carolina 24
Boston College 30 FINAL
Penn State 31
(25) Nebraska 42 FINAL
(24) USC 45
Texas A&M 1:00 PM
West Virginia
Oklahoma 4:30 PM
(18) Clemson
Arkansas 8:00 PM
Texas
Notre Dame 12/30/14 2:00 PM
(22) LSU
(13) Georgia 12/30/14 5:45 PM
(20) Louisville
Maryland 12/30/14 9:00 PM
Stanford
(9) Ole Miss 12/31/14 11:30 AM
(6) TCU
(21) Boise State 12/31/14 3:00 PM
(12) Arizona
(8) Miss State 12/31/14 7:00 PM
(10) Georgia Tech
(19) Auburn 1/1/15 11:00 AM
(17) Wisconsin
(7) Michigan State 1/1/15 11:30 AM
(4) Baylor
(16) Missouri 1/1/15 12:00 PM
Minnesota
(2) Florida State 1/1/15 4:00 PM
(3) Oregon
(5) Ohio State 1/1/15 7:30 PM
(1) Alabama
Houston 1/2/15 11:00 AM
Pittsburgh
Iowa 1/2/15 2:20 PM
Tennessee
(11) Kansas State 1/2/15 5:45 PM
(14) UCLA
Washington 1/2/15 9:15 PM
Oklahoma State
East Carolina 1/3/15 11:00 AM
Florida
Toledo 1/4/15 8:00 PM
Arkansas State
Drexel 71 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 54
Holy Cross 63 FINAL
Norfolk State 62
East Carolina 62 FINAL
South Florida 69
(10) Oregon State 63 FINAL
(8) Tennessee 74
Providence 51 FINAL
Boston College 79
Florida A&M 47 FINAL
Miami-Florida 83
Oakland 69 FINAL
Central Michigan 74
Chattanooga 59 FINAL
SIU-Edwardsville 49
Fairfield 59 FINAL
La Salle 73
St Francis-PA 59 FINAL
Pittsburgh 97
Milwaukee 72 FINAL
IUPU-Ft Wayne 78
Gardner-Webb 59 FINAL
Longwood 63
New Hampshire 58 FINAL
Manhattan 54
Bucknell 68 FINAL
Binghamton 57
Northeastern 70 FINAL
Albany 67
George Mason 70 FINAL
Towson 72
Richmond 59 FINAL
William & Mary 56
Tulane 60 FINAL
Cincinnati 50
North Florida 51 FINAL
Florida 63
(14) Georgia 51 FINAL
Seton Hall 70
Tennessee St 75 FINAL
(12) Kentucky 87
American Univ 64 FINAL
Wake Forest 77
Massachusetts 78 FINAL
Boston U 57
Quinnipiac 69 FINAL
Saint Josephs 67
Lafayette 49 FINAL
Saint Peters 34
Northwestern 61 FINAL
(20) Michigan State 57
Duquesne 82 FINAL
Lehigh 75
George Washington 72 FINAL
Loyola-Maryland 49
(17) Rutgers 66 FINAL
Indiana 51
(24) Green Bay 66 FINAL
Dayton 72
Western Mich 55 FINAL
Stony Brook 59
Davidson 67 FINAL
Virginia 57
UNC Greensboro 61 FINAL
LSU 82
Denver 63 FINAL
North Texas 55
VA Commonwealth 63 FINAL
Coppin State 52
Huston-Tillotson 36 FINAL
Houston Baptist 86
Lamar 63 FINAL
Rice 97
Miss Valley St 40 FINAL
Alabama 71
Saint Louis 63 FINAL
Eastern Illinois 49
Middle Tennessee 98 FINAL
Tenn Tech 76
Penn State 52 FINAL
(23) Iowa 77
Purdue 62 FINAL
Illinois 55
DePaul 99 FINAL
Illinois State 62
Sam Houston St 46 FINAL
Wichita State 70
South Dakota 76 FINAL
TX-San Antonio 69
(4) Notre Dame 82 FINAL
UCLA 67
Coll of Charleston 51 FINAL
SC State 60
Alcorn State 53 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 63
Dartmouth 76 FINAL
Niagara 70
Colgate 68 FINAL
Siena 80
Michigan 53 FINAL
Wisconsin 63
Fla Gulf Coast 73 FINAL
CS-Northridge 64
Yale 51 FINAL
(25) Arizona State 69
UC Santa Barbara 34 FINAL
(16) Stanford 90
Long Island 63 FINAL
Long Beach St 71
Jackson State 56 FINAL
Louisiana 65
Eureka 50 FINAL
Western Ill 91
Cornell 59 FINAL
(22) Syracuse 76
Temple 58 FINAL
Memphis 57
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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 pmX41-28
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pmX42-10
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit NoonX17-3
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo NoonX17-16
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay NoonX19-13 ot
Nov 2 - vs. Washington NoonX29-26
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago NoonX21-13
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay NoonX24-21
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina NoonX31-13
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets NoonX30-24 ot
Dec 14 - at Detroit 3:25 pmX16-14
Dec 21 - at Miami NoonX37-35
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago NoonX13-9

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