Minnesota Vikings: Five Preseason Battles To Watch
The Minnesota Vikings are now on the road to the 2017 NFL regular season. They have split their first two preseason games with a victory over the Buffalo Bills and a loss to the Seattle Seahawks respectively. As the preseason progresses, there are several position groups with competitions that will reach another level during live action. Here are five areas to closely monitor as the Vikings preseason unfolds.
1. The Defensive Line Rotation
Perhaps the most enticing battle during the preseason will take place on the Vikings’ defensive line. The team has so much depth and talent at both the interior and edge spots. How the coaches trim this position group will shape the entire roster.
The fourth defensive end spot is up for grabs between defensive ends Stephen Weatherly, Tashawn Bower, and Ifeadi Odenigbo. Weatherly has developed more of his length and athleticism by improving his pass rushing moves. However, he’ll need to be consistent in the preseason with Bower and Odenigbo clicking at his heels. Bower has made some noise with his athleticism and quickness as a pass rusher. He is starting to be more precise with his pass rushing angles. Out of the three, Ifeadi Odenigbo has made the most noise. He is a power rusher with a developed long arm jab, push, pull, and bull rush. Odenigbo is a playmaker and is making a few splash plays in the preseason.
The battle inside also poses an interesting storyline. Outside of Linval Joseph and Tom Johnson, the other three defensive tackle spots are up for grabs. The Vikings signed Datone Jones in free agency and Shamar Stephen had an impressive camp. Jones wasn’t a big standout, but the preseason will provide more clarity up front. Could Jones be released in favor of a young player like Will Sutton? It certainly will be dependent upon the exhibition games. At this point, Jones and Stephen appear poised to claim a roster spot, along with fourth round draft pick Jaleel Johnson. It means a player like Will Sutton will need to have a strong preseason in order to edge a veteran like Datone Jones.
2. Cook makes his NFL debut, the wide receiver battle heats up
Rookie running back Dalvin Cook made his NFL debut Thursday night on his 22nd birthday and has turned heads with his athleticism. Cook was one of the most impressive players on the field during training camp. He displayed how dynamic he can be out of the backfield. Whether it’s running out of the shotgun or pass catching, Cook gets to the edge and shows his above average lateral agility and vision. His cutbacks are so smooth when he gets a small crease.
In addition, it will be the first opportunity to see wide receivers Cayleb Jones, Isaac Fruechte, Stacy Coley, and Rodney Adams in game action. Adams has struggled to get separation, while Coley has progressed very nicely. Cayleb Jones made frequent splash plays, showing his vertical playmaking ability. He’ll need to carve out a role on special teams, which is a strength for Isaac Fruechte. Nonetheless, Jones has more upside as a receiver than Fruechte. The way all of these players perform on special teams, along with their offensive contributions will dictate who snatches the final wide receiver spot while Michael Floyd serves his suspension.
3. The Backup Quarterback Spot
Quarterback Taylor Heinicke has shown improved arm strength and accuracy when throwing to the sideline. However, Heinicke was less consistent and accurate throwing up the field. On the other hand, veteran Case Keenum has shown more promises and has performed well when he was asked to throw with more touch and less arm strength. It was particularly noticeable when he threw the ball deep down the field. The backup quarterback spot has narrowed and head coach Mike Zimmer will use the next two preseason games to evaluate who will be Sam Bradford’s back up. Both Heinicke and Keenum will see extended action during the third preseason game and it will be worth watching how they handle the pressure.
4. The Weakside Linebacker Rotation
The starting weakside linebacker position in the base 4-3 defense will be settled in the preseason. Linebackers Edmond Robinson and Emmanuel Lamur have been rotating, but neither of them made too much noise. Zimmer has been rotating rookie Ben Gedeon into the weakside spot as well. Gedeon is a very tough and physical player that can be the enforcer of this defense. Zimmer said the coaches will be frequently rotating players on both sides of the ball. Gedeon certainly will see plenty of snaps the rest of this preseason to prove he is worthy of a starting role.
5. The Kicker and Punter Battle
The two areas with the least clarity among positional battles are kicker and punter. Kickers Marshall Koehn and Kai Forbath have both been inconsistent, missing from a variety of distances. Forbath probably has the edge, but it’s still very close. The same is the case for the punters on the roster. Punter Taylor Symmank has a bigger leg, but not nearly as much hangtime on his punts. Veteran Ryan Quigley has the hang time, but not nearly as much distance. The preseason will be a time to see how these specialists handle in-game situations.