For just the second time in his career this week, Kirk Cousins lined up at quarterback on the practice field, staring across the line of scrimmage at players who weren’t his teammates.
What’s more, the players Cousins saw — with a pair of notable exceptions — were the starters from the league’s second-ranked defense a year ago. If there’s a limit to what a quarterback can gain from practicing for weeks against his own defense — even when it’s ranked No. 1 in the league — Cousins got to break the monotony this week with another formidable foe he doesn’t see every day.
“It’s the best possible scout team you could ever have leading into a game, to actually go against the defense,” Cousins said. “It’ll be interesting to see how it feels on Saturday, having already related to these guys for a couple of days. Certainly in the preseason you’re normally not very familiar [with your opponent]. So, I think from that standpoint it should be somewhat of a help going into the game.”
The Vikings’ preseason home opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Saturday comes on the heels of two practices the teams shared as the Vikings closed their first training camp at their new facility in Eagan. While the stakes of the afternoon game between the two conference championship participants won’t rise because of the extra familiarity, players believe they’ll benefit from the chance to work a few more tactics into the matchup than they normally would.
“You might beat them one time with a certain move or certain way you ran a route. Then they go watch film with their coach, and say, ‘OK, this is what you need to do better,’ then they usually cover it pretty well the second time,” wide receiver Adam Thielen said. “You definitely have to switch things up. It’s just like in a game, though. It’s so gamelike. There are times in a game you’re going to run the same route and if you won the first time, you’re going to have to switch it up a little bit.”
From a 30,000-foot level, there’s very little about the Vikings’ approach to their second preseason game that will be significantly different because of the joint practices. They have pulled most of their starters before halftime in their second preseason game the past two years and ordinarily don’t spend much time game-planning for specific opponents at this point.
“It won’t change hardly anything,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “It’ll be like having practiced [before a game] with a normal week of practice; it was just a lot more full-speed.”
Players, though, will enter the game with more of a backlog of knowledge about the opponents they’ll see on Saturday. Even though the Vikings and Jaguars likely haven’t spent much time studying film of the other team this week, players naturally come by a knowledge of their opponent’s tendencies from spending two days working against one another.
“It definitely changed a lot for both sides,” cornerback Xavier Rhodes said. “They know our tendencies. They know what we like to do. They know if I like pressing or playing off — well, I guess everybody knows that I like pressing. Little things like that they tend to figure out and know our tendencies during practice, and they know that we are going to take it to the game.”
The Vikings practiced against a preseason opponent for the second time in three years this week, after spending two days with the Bengals before their 2016 preseason opener.
Zimmer said this week he’d consider holding practices with another team again, though he added it’d likely need to be a team the Vikings wouldn’t see in the regular season (like Jacksonville this year) because “you can get a lot of intel.”
But the practices provided another litmus test for the Vikings as they reach the halfway point of the preseason.
“What I’ll do now is I’ll kind of watch the film, and sit back and evaluate where we are: how we need to address some things, what was good,” Zimmer said. “Sometimes, you go against your own guys, you don’t know your strengths and weaknesses against everybody until you play against somebody else.”
It certainly won’t make Saturday’s preseason game more meaningful in the long run. But it might make it more useful.
“They’ll know that we like to do certain blitzes, certain passes, stuff like that,” Rhodes said. “It’s going to be a good game.”