Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.


Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.


Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.


Vikings-Texans: Five things worth watching

Posted by: Mark Craig under Quarterbacks, Vikings, Vikings defense, Vikings offense, Anthony Herrera, Heath Farwell, Tyrell Johnson Updated: August 31, 2011 - 8:55 AM

The words "worth watching" are relative in this case. It's a fourth preseason game and nearly all of the players who will significantly impact the first regular-season game will be standing on the sideline in sweats and baseball caps.

However, there are some interesting areas to watch Thursday night as the Vikings wrap up the preseason with a game that will help them settle some position battles, as well as the bottom of what will end up being their 53-man roster.

Here's five of them:

1, Strong safety.

With Anthony Herrera having seemingly won back his starting right guard job and Erin Henderson having no competition at weak-side linebacker, strong safety is the only starting position still up for grabs heading into Thursday's game. If the rotation continues as it has through the first three preseason games, Tyrell Johnson will get the start. However, that's not a lock because Jamarca Sanford appears to be ahead in the battle, despite the fact defensive coordinator Fred Pagac continues to call it a dead heat. With the players off Friday through Sunday, this is the last opportunity these two players have to win the job. The Vikings can't play 12 men on defense (insert 12 men in huddle joke here), so a decision will be made after this game.

2, No. 2 quarterback.

Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said the final preseason game isn't "make or break" for the No. 2 QB battle. So the Vikings could adjust throughout the season based on how rookie Christian Ponder develops. With the new 46-man rule that would allow the Vikings to play all three quarterbacks in the game, there's a question of how much it really matters who wins the No. 2 job. Joe Does Ponder's long-term development improve with No. 2 reps during the course of the regular season? Whether it's No. 2 reps or No. 3 scout team, Ponder and Musgrave are going to be working overtime with an eye toward Ponder becoming the franchise QB in 2012. Joe Webb looks to be ahead of Ponder at this point, but if either one of them ends up starting this season, it's only because Donovan McNabb got hurt or the season fell apart. So if you're a Vikings fan, enjoy Ponder's Metrodome debut start and hope you don't see him again until next year.

3, The 273-pound linebacker.

Everson Griffen is fast and athletic enough that he was scouted by some teams as a 3-4 outside linebacker coming out of USC. No one saw him as an outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense. At least not until the Vikings moved him there on Monday. Griffen probably will open the game at defensive end and play the first half there. But the interesting part won't come until he moves to weak-side linebacker and gives it a go after only two days of practice. He's so raw and new to the position that linebackers coach Mike Singletary didn't even know his first name in practice on Tuesday. Griffen would be a natural pass rusher from a stand-up position. But if opponents know he can't cover, then they'll know he's going to rush the passer every time he's on the field as a linebacker. So watch to see how Griffen does in pass coverages.

4, Ballard's playing time at end.

No one's stock is rising faster than rookie fourth-round draft pick Christian Ballard. It's one of the reasons the Vikings were able to experiment with Griffen at linebacker. Ballard can play the three-technique tackle and nose in the first-team nickel. The team will now take a look at him at defensive end on Thursday. Ballard has the build to play end as well as tackle. Heck, the big fella was covering kicks in practice on Tuesday.

5, Larry the Underdog

The best underdog story in camp is Larry Dean, the 6-foot (or so they say), 226-pound linebacker from Valdosta State. He's No. 51 and he's a tackling machine. The D-II Defensive Player of the Year last season is making a serious push to make the team as a special teamer. He's pushing veterans Heath Farwell and Kenny Onatolu, two players who have been slowed by injuries during the preseason.

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