The preseason opener is in the books. So what did we learn last night?
There were a few things to glean from a Vikings win in which most of their starters departed midway through the first quarter. The Hall of Fame Game gave us an extended look at a bunch of young players who are vying for roster spots and in some cases significant roles as rookies.
In full disclosure, I was not at the game. Our resident Hall of Fame voter Mark Craig got the call, so I was couch-surfing like the rest of you. But here are five things that stood out to me on my modest flat-screen TV.
1. The team’s enthusiasm about fifth-rounders Stefon Diggs and MyCole Pruitt seems well-placed. Diggs, one of the biggest standouts in camp to date, produced the play of the night with his 57-yard punt return in the third quarter. As Mark Craig wrote a little bit ago, Diggs got great blocking on the play. But he also showed vision, patience and some fancy footwork in nearly taking that return to the house. Pruitt, meanwhile, led the Vikings with four catches for 51 yards and a touchdown. That score came on what might have been busted coverage, but still, props to Pruitt for slipping behind the linebackers, making a nice adjustment to the ball and winning the footrace to the end zone. Good start for those two young men.
2. Teddy Bridgewater played with poise in his first and only series. The second-year quarterback made quick decisions while completing five of his six attempts for 44 yards. He also rushed for six yards, stepping up in the pocket and then scrambling when nothing was open on one first-down play. His ball placement wasn’t always perfect. He threw short to Mike Wallace in the flat on one play-action pass and put the ball slightly behind Jerick McKinnon on the running back’s impressive catch-and-run play. But overall, it was a fine night for Bridgewater, particularly on third down.
3. Trae Waynes struggled in his unofficial NFL debut. The top pick had tight coverage on several plays, but the three penalties he was flagged for and the 35-yard reception he allowed to Steelers wide receiver Shakim Phillips stand out. On the Phillips catch, during which Waynes was penalized for the first time, the rookie cornerback was flat-footed in off coverage and got caught guessing, forcing him to reach out and grab Phillips. On his two other penalties, Waynes was in pretty good position, but his instincts told him to reach out and grab an arm or tug on a jersey. To stay on the field, Waynes will have to work on keeping his hands to himself. But remember, it is August 10 and Waynes still has a month to improve before Week 1.
4. It was a mixed bag for the team’s young offensive linemen. The starting fivesome, which included Mike Harris at right guard, did a solid job in the first series. Then those guys made way for youngsters such as Austin Shepherd, T.J. Clemmings and Tyrus Thompson. Shepherd and Thompson led the Vikings in offensive snaps with 48 and 45, respectively. Shepherd held his own moving inside to right guard. The towering Thompson, meanwhile, continued to look out of place at left guard. Clemmings seemed to do a pretty good job at right tackle, particularly in pass protection.
5. The defense played well, as should have been expected. The Steelers did not play their talented trio of Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, instead trotting out third-string QB Landry Jones for the entire game and giving some guy named Cameron Stingily a bunch of carries. So yeah, the Vikings should have smothered the short-staffed Steelers offense. The first-stringers forced a quick three-and-out and backups such as safety Antone Exum, cornerback Jabari Price, defensive end Justin Trattou and defensive tackle Tom Johnson made some plays. The Vikings held the Steelers to just 3.2 yards per play. As I said, the defense did its job, but it’s near impossible to draw any conclusions about that group as a whole.