Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said that while he has been pleased with his team's offensive performance at times this preseason, it is still showing some of the same problems from last year — when the Vikings ranked 23rd in the NFL in points per game.
"I do, I feel good about the things that they're doing," Zimmer said. "The biggest thing is we have to score some points when we get down in the red zone. They are very varied, they have a lot of weapons; I think the offensive line is better, but you know it's the same old story.
"We have to get down there and score points."
The Vikings' biggest problem through two preseason games has been with the starters. In the opener at Buffalo, the starters played three series, which totaled 24 yards on 13 plays without a point.
At Seattle last week, the Vikings' opening drive went 76 yards but stalled after they had a first down at the Seahawks 12-yard line. A false start by Kyle Rudolph and a delay-of-game penalty by Sam Bradford had them settle for a field goal.
Their next two series both ended in punts.
When asked if the tradition of playing the starters more in the third preseason game will continue Sunday against San Francisco, Zimmer said he thought it would.
"We're going to play some this week. I think we need to build offensively on the things we've done and continue to get out there and get some more reps," he said. "Defensively I think it's the same thing. We need to get out there and play a little bit more than what we've been playing."
Does Zimmer believe there is any chance the starters could have to go in the final preseason game at home against Miami, if they don't perform this week?
"I haven't thought that far, yet, typically we haven't done that much, but if we feel like we need it we're going to play them," he said. "We'll see after this week how it goes, and we'll go from there."
Rookies on the line
One early positive for the Vikings has been the play of their young offensive linemen.
Zimmer said it looks like Joe Berger will start at right guard, and it could be that rookie Pat Elflein and third-year center Nick Easton continue to battle for that starting center spot while also playing Easton some at guard.
"Easton and Elflein have both done well," he said. "We're looking for ways to try to get them more involved in the games and get them out there. We'll probably get them out there a little bit together this week and see how it goes."
Another young guy on the offensive line that has opened eyes is Danny Isidora, the fifth-round pick out of Miami (Fla.).
"He has done a nice job," Zimmer said. "You know he has some things he has to correct, but those three young guys — Isidora, Elflein and Easton — they are all guys that they can get in a bad position but can recover because they can move, have a low center of gravity, and they can get themselves out of some trouble that other guys can't."
And while Isidora might not be quite ready to start, Zimmer did say that when it comes to Elflein and Easton, "We may have two starters there."
As for Berger being moved away from center, Zimmer has liked what he has seen from him at guard. And that was a big point of emphasis for the Vikings this year: create versatility on the line.
"He has been playing well," Zimmer said. "He has done good the last two preseason games, had a good training camp and he's doing a good job."
When Vikings training camp began, it seemed like Latavius Murray was the most likely candidate to be the starter at running back after he inked a three-year, $15 million deal.
But at this point, you have to wonder where Murray will stand on the depth chart, with all of the play that Dalvin Cook and Jerick McKinnon have been getting.
Still, Zimmer said Murray should see his first preseason action this week.
"I have liked what I have seen. He has good acceleration to the hole, catches the ball well, good in pass protection," Zimmer said. "You know we had a play down on the goal line the other day in practice and he got the ball and lowered his pads. He had a lot of touchdowns in Oakland, and I think that's one of the strengths he has now."
Yes, Murray accumulated 2,278 yards rushing and 20 scores in his three years at Oakland, and maybe he can really shine on the goal line.
But Zimmer remains impressed with Cook, the second-round pick out of Florida State.
"Last week he made a couple of really, really nice runs," Zimmer said. "He scooted through a small crease on one, got nicked on the ankle on one and was able to high step through there. He has been good and good in the playbook, good in understanding protections in pass protection and obviously we've seen a few more things in practice than we have in the games so far."
Defense more stable
Even with the departure of veteran Chad Greenway, Zimmer said his linebacking corps looks good.
"[Anthony] Barr and [Eric] Kendricks will be the two starters and then we're looking at [fourth-round pick Ben] Gedeon, who has done a nice job, Edmond Robinson and [Emmanuel] Lamur. I think Gedeon will get the first shot this week with the starting group, and then we'll kind of see how it goes."
For Zimmer the bigger questions stem from the play of people like undrafted free agent Aviante Collins, the left tackle out of TCU, Tashawn Bower, the undrafted free agent out of LSU, and Eric Wilson, a linebacker from the University of Cincinnati. He said the play of guys like that will make it tough when the team goes from 90 players to 53.
You wonder how the Gophers football attendance for the season opener will be affected with the Vikings playing their final preseason game that same night at home vs. Miami.
The Gophers schedule was made long before the Vikings, even though the Vikings probably couldn't change their schedule because of TV commitments. Still the big issue is the Gophers are contractually obligated to play on Thursday night if they play at home during the State Fair. They cannot play on Saturdays if it is the same week as the State Fair.
That agreement runs through 2022. Still, you would think both organizations could have done something to avoid the conflict.
Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. Monday and Friday, 2 p.m. Friday and 10:30 a.m. Sunday. firstname.lastname@example.org