Stephen Weatherly and Hercules Mata’afa should learn a lot about each other in the next week.
The Vikings defensive linemen will face two of the NFL’s most mobile quarterbacks — Seattle’s Russell Wilson on Sunday and Arizona’s Kyler Murray six days later.
Weatherly, a defensive end entering his fourth NFL season, and Mata’afa, a defensive tackle playing in his second NFL preseason game, could be the Vikings’ answer to creating interior pass rush this season. In addition to playing together as backups, Weatherly and Mata’afa have been paired together as pass-rushing defensive tackles on long third downs.
Should the duo stick in the Vikings’ plans, they need to show they can rush the passer in harmony. Mobile — and unpredictable — quarterbacks such as Wilson are one of the best litmus tests.
“This is where it gets tested,” Weatherly said. “That connective tissue, that camaraderie we’ve been building since OTAs. It’ll get tested this week, because when you think [Mata’afa] went left, but he went right and created a running lane [for the quarterback] up the middle, I’m like, ‘O.K., now I know for sure what he does and how he likes to get off the block.’”
The Vikings defensive line has a system. If two players run a “stunt,” or twist, the younger guy has to listen to the older guy’s cue for who goes first. So Weatherly, 25, will guide Mata’afa, 23, through this preseason.
“That’s something we’ve been working on,” Weatherly said. “I’ve communicated with him every time, me being the older guy, put him at ease when we get into the game.”
Mata’afa, the promising second-year pro out of Washington State, already has his sights set high.
“I don’t want to be just known as a pass rusher,” Mata’afa said. “I want to be a starter in this league. That’s my ultimate goal.”
Quarterback Kirk Cousins wants to keep working on an “instinctual” part of football this preseason, one he says has been lacking from his game entering his eighth NFL season. Simply, Cousins wants to improve on buying time — or bailing — during a play using his legs. He added that’s difficult to practice while wearing a red no-contact jersey.
“I’ve always felt that’s a missing element in my game,” Cousins said. “Not only running for yards, but run around and make throws. I was talking with Fran Tarkenton this winter, Fran said, ‘Kirk I only ran a 4.9 40[-yard dash]. I wasn’t fast, but I ran around to be able to throw.’”
A wanted man
Chad Beebe is a wanted man at Vikings practice. The second-year receiver has been moonlighting as a holder for field goals, meaning special teams coordinator Marwan Maalouf is often asking Beebe if he’s done running routes with the offense. If so, Beebe runs to a different field with the specialists to hold, which may become a full-time duty added to his roles as the No. 3 receiver and punt returner.
“It’s something I’m getting used to a little bit, because obviously there’s a lot of back and forth,” Beebe said. “I’m never going to say no.”
Morgan remains sidelined
As training camp closed Friday, tight end David Morgan still has not been able to practice with the Vikings while recovering from an undisclosed injury. Morgan, last year’s No. 2 tight end, missed three games at the end of last season due to a knee injury. Vikings coaches are mum on Morgan’s timeline to return to practice as he remains on the PUP list.
“He had some stuff done,” assistant head coach Gary Kubiak said. “They are continuing to try to push and get him on the field. I think we all know what he’s done when he’s been on the field, but we got to get him back out there.”