Finally, the preseason has arrived.
I know what you’re thinking: You can’t wait to see Mike Zimmer’s Vikings in action tonight.
And I know what you will be thinking about a half hour after kickoff: Where’s the remote?
But with a new head coach, a bunch of intriguing newcomers and a handful of positions still far from settled, there are reasons to refrain from changing the channel, at least not until halftime.
Here are the three main things I will be watching tonight:
1. WHO STANDS OUT AT QUARTERBACK? Both Matt Cassel and Teddy Bridgewater will get reps with the first-team offense. Cassel figures to play two or three series. Bridgewater could play a couple of quarters, maybe more. A strong performance could help Cassel get some separation from Bridgewater, who has continually been praised by the coaching staff. But Bridgewater has more to gain potentially. If he plays with poise against the Raiders, the coaching staff could choose to give him even more reps with the first-team offense in camp, making it an even competition from here on out. Christian Ponder will get the leftovers, and he has something to prove to 31 other teams.
2. WHO STEPS UP AT STRONG SAFETY? The addition of noted Zimmer guy Chris Crocker says a lot about the health of the safeties or what Zimmer thinks about his current options there. Or both. The three top contenders to play next to Harrison Smith — Robert Blanton, Jamarca Sanford and Andrew Sendejo — have all missed time in camp due to injuries. Blanton won’t play tonight, and Sanford’s status is up in the air. These preseason games will play a huge role in helping Zimmer pick his second safety, as he wants to see them tackle on the back end. Don’t be surprised if the veteran Crocker is already with the first team tonight, but this competition remains wide open.
3. HOW WILL THE ROOKS FARE OUT THERE? Bridgewater isn’t the only rookie the coaching staff is eager to see. Zimmer could potentially count on a number of his draft picks this year, starting with top pick Anthony Barr, whom Zimmer will use all over the field tonight. Third-round running back Jerick McKinnon gets to run against a defense that is actually trying to tackle him. Fifth-round guard David Yankey has an outside chance to claw his way into the starting mix before Week 1. And seventh-round cornerback Jabari Price will try to carry his strong start to camp into an actual game. The preseason is an opportunity for these rookies to show they’re ready to contribute right away.