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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Kansas City - WP: J. Guthrie 3 FINAL
San Francisco - LP: T. Hudson 2
Detroit 10/26/14 8:30 AM
Atlanta
Buffalo 10/26/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
St. Louis 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
Houston 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee
Minnesota 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Seattle 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
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Cincinnati
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Jacksonville
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New England
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Arizona
Oakland 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Cleveland
Indianapolis 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Pittsburgh
Green Bay 10/26/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans
Washington 10/27/14 7:30 PM
Dallas
New Orleans 10/30/14 7:25 PM
Carolina
Dallas 117 FINAL
Orlando 92
New York 80 FINAL
Toronto 83
San Antonio 87 FINAL
Houston 96
Miami 104 FINAL
Memphis 98
Minnesota 113 FINAL
Chicago 112
Phoenix 105 FINAL
Utah 100
Sacramento 93 FINAL
LA Lakers 92
Denver 112 FINAL
Golden State 119
Portland 99 FINAL
LA Clippers 89
Dallas 3 FINAL(SO)
New Jersey 2
Tampa Bay 4 FINAL
Winnipeg 2
Vancouver 3 FINAL
Colorado 7
Carolina 3 FINAL
Edmonton 6
Columbus 1 FINAL
Anaheim 4
Connecticut 21 FINAL
(18) East Carolina 31
Miami-Florida 30 FINAL
Virginia Tech 6
So Florida 17 FINAL
Cincinnati 34
Troy 13 FINAL
South Alabama 27
BYU 30 FINAL
Boise State 55
(6) Oregon 59 FINAL
California 41
North Texas 11:00 AM
Rice
UAB 11:00 AM
Arkansas
Rutgers 11:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
Maryland 11:00 AM
Wisconsin
Texas 11:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
Minnesota 11:00 AM
Illinois
Memphis 11:00 AM
SMU
North Carolina 11:30 AM
Virginia
San Jose St 12:00 PM
Navy
Northern Ill 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
(25) UCLA 1:00 PM
Colorado
Akron 1:00 PM
Ball State
Massachusetts 1:00 PM
Toledo
Ohio U 1:00 PM
Western Mich
Ga Southern 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Kent State 1:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
Oregon State 2:30 PM
Stanford
Fla Atlantic 2:30 PM
(23) Marshall
Louisiana Tech 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(1) Miss State 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Georgia Tech 2:30 PM
Pittsburgh
(22) West Virginia 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Texas Tech 2:30 PM
(10) TCU
Michigan 2:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Boston College 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Central Mich 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Vanderbilt 3:00 PM
Missouri
Old Dominion 3:00 PM
Western Ky
UNLV 3:00 PM
Utah State
Temple 4:00 PM
UCF
(15) Arizona 5:00 PM
Washington St
Texas-El Paso 6:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Wyoming 6:00 PM
Colorado State
Syracuse 6:00 PM
(21) Clemson
Texas State 6:00 PM
ULM
(3) Ole Miss 6:15 PM
(24) LSU
(4) Alabama 6:30 PM
Tennessee
So Carolina 6:30 PM
(5) Auburn
(13) Ohio State 7:00 PM
Penn State
(20) USC 9:00 PM
(19) Utah
(14) Arizona State 9:45 PM
Washington
Nevada 10:59 PM
Hawaii
(2) Florida State 10/30/14 6:30 PM
Louisville
Troy 10/30/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
Cincinnati 10/31/14 7:00 PM
Tulane
Tulsa 10/31/14 7:00 PM
Memphis
Purdue 11/1/14 2:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
(17) Oklahoma 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Iowa State
Oklahoma State 11/1/14 2:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
(10) TCU 11/1/14 2:00 AM
(22) West Virginia
Texas 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Texas Tech
Northwestern 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Iowa
Maryland 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Penn State
Houston 1 FINAL
Chicago 2
Montreal 23 FINAL
Ottawa 17
Saskatchewan 27 FINAL
Calgary 40
Hamilton 3:00 PM
Toronto
Brt Columbia 6:00 PM
Winnipeg
Hamilton 10/31/14 6:30 PM
Ottawa
Winnipeg 11/1/14 3:00 PM
Calgary
Brt Columbia 11/1/14 6:00 PM
Edmonton
Toronto 11/2/14 11:00 AM
Montreal
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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 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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