Before leaving for Seattle to face the Seahawks on Friday in their second preseason game, coach Mike Zimmer talked about how the Vikings have progressed since their preseason opener.
“I feel good. There’s obviously some things we have to work on, as far as offensively, we have to get some more things done,” he said. “We’re still evaluating these young guys, some of these young defensive ends and young offensive linemen. I think [the Seahawks] will be a good test for them.”
And while their 17-10 victory over Buffalo last week was a fairly lackluster game, Zimmer said he saw things he liked on offense.
“I thought our screen game looked a lot better offensively, we did a better job in some of the runs that we did,” he said. “Didn’t have nearly as many negative yardage plays, had some good drives towards the end of the game. I think it’s going to be a good evaluation session [in Seattle] for some of our young defensive ends and offensive linemen. It’ll be a good test, a great atmosphere, loud, and a good football team we’re playing.”
The biggest question mark remains the offensive line.
“We’re going to look at another [starting] combination this week,” Zimmer said. “A lot of it depends on how fast we get [left tackle] Riley Reiff back and how fast we can solidify that group.”
When asked if rookie Pat Elflein or veteran Nick Easton will be the team’s center, Zimmer seemed to suggest it’s the rookie’s job to lose.
“It’s still open,” he said. “Elflein has done a nice job. He’s going to start this week at center. We’ll get a good evaluation against Seattle’s guys.
“He’s very quick, has strength, tough, sees things well. He had a bad snap the other night, so we have to clean that up. This will be a great test for him. We’ll see where he’s at after this week.”
The benefit of having either Elflein or Easton at center is being able to move versatile Joe Berger to right guard.
“He’s doing a great job in there,” Zimmer said about the 13-year veteran. “I’m not saying anything is set yet, until we can see these five guys together and see how they perform together. But Joe has done a nice job. He had played with strength, he’s played with power, he’s been able to get to the second level well. He’s doing good there.”
Does he worry the line will take a step back with Berger not over the ball?
“I don’t think so,” Zimmer said. “[Elflein and Easton] can really get to the middle linebacker quicker than Joe could, and they have some physicality and nastiness. Really, we’re just trying to get the best five in there, however it turns out.”
Zimmer was asked about the play of quarterback Sam Bradford, who completed five of seven passes for 35 yards against the Bills, and said he has high expectations for him.
Bradford produced a quality season last year, but the offense didn’t have any firepower. They averaged 315.1 yards per game, 28th in the NFL.
So Zimmer wants to see more out of Bradford, and believes he will. This is Bradford’s first full offseason and training camp with the Vikings after being acquired from the Eagles last September.
“Number one, the communication between him and I is so much better, being able to communicate the different things throughout the course of the game,” Zimmer said. “Being able to talk to Pat [Shumur, the offensive coordinator] the entire time has been great, being around the receivers and the offensive line.
“I just feel like this is an outstanding opportunity for him. He has a chance. Been here all year, been with coaches that he knows, he’s got a pretty good defensive football team with him. I think this is a great opportunity for Sam.”
Zimmer also said he’s seeing a lot of nice play from some young players trying to make the team.
“[Defensive end] Tashawn Bower is an unrestricted free agent who has had a nice camp,” he said. “Jaleel Johnson, once we moved him over to three-technique [defensive tackle], has looked a lot better. [Linebacker Ben] Gedeon is probably going to get the start this week in Seattle. Offensively Elflein, [guard Danny] Isidora, the two young receivers [Rodney Adams and Stacy Coley] are both doing a nice job.”
Twins schedule tough
The Twins’ schedule the rest of the season is not too favorable to them making the playoffs.
After splitting a day-night doubleheader with Cleveland on Thursday, the Twins are one game out of the final AL wild-card spot with 43 games remaining.
The Twins will play seven more games on the road (25) than at home (18) — though the team has played much better on the road, so that might be a benefit.
They still have three tough series against the AL East, traveling for three games in late August to Toronto, where they haven’t won a game since 2014, and three at New York in mid-September, where they are 1-5 in their past six games. They also will play the Blue Jays at Target Field in a four-game set in mid-September.
The Twins will face Kansas City seven times in 10 days from Sept. 1-10, and only has one series with Cleveland the rest of the season, in late September.
• Sports Illustrated recently had high praise for outfielder Eddie Rosario, writing that he has been the catalyst for the Twins’ season. “Rosario might start piecing together more good streaks than bad, thanks to an improved ability to lay off pitches out of the zone.” Rosario is hitting .340 in August and .400 over the past seven days.
• Royce Lewis, the Twins’ No. 1 overall draft pick, continues to play well in the minor leagues. After being called up to Class A Cedar Rapids on Aug. 12, the shortstop is hitting .412 with seven hits and two RBI in four games. Meanwhile, Hunter Greene — who many thought the Twins should have taken instead of Lewis and went to the Reds with the No. 2 pick — has finally started playing for the Billings (Mont.) Mustangs in rookie ball, but has yet to pitch. He is hitting .278 with three RBI in four games.
• Brent Rooker, the Twins’ other pick in the supplemental first round (No. 35 overall), struggled early after being called up to high Class A Fort Myers but lately is on a tear. He’s hit .344 with three home runs, 14 RBI and nine runs scored in his past 10 games. He’s hitting .245 at Fort Myers in 29 games after batting .282 in 22 games at rookie-league Elizabethton.