The Vikings’ season opener against the Green Bay Packers is just nine days away, leaving plenty to discuss after reporters were allowed to view just 13 full practices this offseason. No preseason games and limited practice time further shrouds how the 2020 season will start, but there are some takeaways to share from what we’ve seen so far. You can hear more in our latest Access Vikings podcast, available on Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

AK: Mike Hughes, the most experienced holdover in just his third NFL season, is the player to watch in the Vikings’ remade cornerback corps. Hughes appeared to have a strong camp during practices open to reporters, stacking days with pass deflections and not surrendering much downfield. He’s also worked as the slot corner, which is to be expected as rookie Jeff Gladney had so little on-field time to prepare before Week 1, meaning much will be expected of Hughes in 2020. On the podcast, colleagues Ben Goessling and Michael Rand also pointed to second-year tight end Irv Smith Jr. and second-year running back Alexander Mattison. Both players saw the ball a lot during camp, and Smith Jr., at least, could maintain a big role into the season. The Vikings also need a big jump from second-year center Garrett Bradbury, who has drawn strong reviews from coaches so far.

AK: Coordinator Gary Kubiak was asked just this, and said he’s peppered the front office with the same questions about how this Vikings roster will come together: “I’m always interested in learning from those guys on how they put teams together. I think it’s a challenge. Normally, you’re looking at preseason games and you’re looking at other team’s players through the course of the preseason and they’re seeing yours. So, how are we going to get guys to the practice squad? Are there guys out there that we’ve got our eyes on? [The front office] could answer that better than me, but it is definitely different, so I’m sure a lot of people are having to go off of past preseasons, a lot more college stuff than they have as we get ready to make these tough decisions.” As Kubiak noted, coaches and scouts are digging deeper into player film for answers on possible additions, as well as following reports from around the league. Head coach Mike Zimmer wouldn’t name any standouts of camp, likely for this very reason: “There’s been a few guys. You see their traits and athletic ability. Sometimes they’re not as up-to-speed mentally as you’d like, so it just takes more time. I know you’re looking for names, but I’m not giving them to you.”

AK: After drafting Cleveland in the second round at the end of April, general manager Rick Spielman said he was the left tackle of the future while Riley Reiff held “down the fort.” The Vikings decided to start Cleveland at guard, according to offensive line coach Rick Dennison, because to their evaluations he had played better in tighter, more confined spaces. Cleveland has worked as a guard exclusively during practices open to reporters, but Dennison did not rule out moving him back to tackle if needed this season. “We'll see,” Dennison said. “There's a lot of things that could play into it. Certainly a year has some ups and downs and a lot of different turns. I think he's got a bright future and a lot of good things I'm looking for from Ezra."

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