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Early Look: Vikings at Bills

Posted Aug 8, 2017

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — It’s time for some preseason football.

The Vikings will kick off their preseason slate by playing in Buffalo on Thursday at 6 p.m. (CT) at New Era Field in Orchard Park, New York.

While starters for both teams may only play a few snaps or a couple of series of plays, the game will serve as a chance for coaches and scouts to evaluate the rest of the players as they battle for roster spots.

Minnesota went 8-8 in 2016 and finished third in the NFC North. Buffalo, which hasn’t made the playoffs since 1999, ended last season with a 7-9 mark.

Here’s an early look at Thursday’s game:

Passing: Quarterback Sam Bradford enters the preseason with a full offseason under his belt after joining the Vikings in a trade in early September.

Bradford threw for 3,877 yards with 20 touchdowns and five interceptions in 2016, and also set an NFL record for completion percentage at 71.6.

Case Keenum and Taylor Heinicke are battling for the backup spot. Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said last week that he’ll use preseason games to evaluate the position battle. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater continues to rehab his leg injury.

Buffalo’s starting quarterback is Tyrod Taylor, a dual-threat who accounted for 3,603 total yards in 2016. Taylor threw for 3,023 yards with 17 touchdowns and six interceptions, and added 580 rushing yards.

Veteran T.J. Yates is also on the Bills roster, as is Nathan Peterman, a 2017 fifth-round pick out of the University of Pittsburgh.

Rushing: The Vikings will use a stable of running backs in Thursday’s contest.

Dalvin Cook and Jerick McKinnon could see the early reps before the combination of Bishop Sankey and Terrell Newby get the bulk of the carries. Fullback C.J. Ham could also see significant playing time. Latavius Murray, who signed as a free agent this spring, was activated from the Physically Unable to Perform list on Monday.

Cook was a second-round pick in April, and McKinnon led the Vikings in rushing yards last season. Sankey and Ham spent all or parts of last season on the practice squad, and Newby is a rookie from the University of Nebraska.

Buffalo employs one of the NFL’s most athletic running backs in LeSean McCoy, who ran for 1,267 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2016. 

The Bills will also use the combination of Taiwan Jones, Jordan Johnson, Cedric O’Neal, Jonathan Williams and former Vikings running back Joe Banyard on Thursday. Buffalo also has a pair of capable fullbacks in Mike Tolbert and Patrick DiMarco.

Receiving: The three standouts who led Minnesota in receiving categories — Adam Thielen (967 receiving yards in 2016), Stefon Diggs (83 catches) and tight end Kyle Rudolph (seven touchdowns) — are likely to see limited action Thursday.

Jarius Wright, Laquon Treadwell, Michael Floyd and Isaac Fruechte could all see time, and rookies Rodney Adams and Stacy Coley will get their first taste of preseason football.

The game will also give wide receivers such as Moritz Böhringer, Cayleb Jones and RJ Shelton a chance to impress coaches.

Minnesota’s young collection of tight ends behind Rudolph will also get playing time. The group of David Morgan, Bucky Hodges, Kyle Carter, Nick Truesdell and Josiah Price are either rookies or have less than two years of NFL experience.

Buffalo is led by Sammy Watkins, who only played in eight games last season due to injury. The Bills also have veterans Brandon Tate, Andre Holmes, Rod Streater, and Anquan Boldin signed with Buffalo on Monday.

Wide receiver Zay Jones, who is a brother of Cayleb, was a second-round pick in April’s draft. The Bills also have a pair of noticeable tight ends in veteran Charles Clay and second-year player Nick O’Leary.

Defense: The Vikings stout defense from 2016 remains largely intact and will likely be for years to come after defensive end Everson Griffen, defensive tackle Linval Joseph and cornerback Xavier Rhodes all recently signed contract extensions.

While the first-team unit won’t play a ton, Thursday will be useful to figuring out the depth behind them. Two areas to watch are young linebackers such and Ben Gedeon and Elijah Lee, and the rotation at defensive tackle, where the Vikings have five players with NFL experience.

Buffalo tied for 16th in 2016 by allowing 23.6 points per game. Bills linebacker Lorenzo Alexander led the team with 12.5 sacks in 2016, finishing tied for third in the NFL with Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter.

The Bills used their 2017 first-round pick on cornerback Tre’Davious White in an effort to upgrade their secondary. Buffalo’s top cornerback in 2016, Stephon Gilmore, is now in New England.

Special Teams: Thursday will be the first live test for Minnesota special teamers who are aiming for roster spots.

Kickers Kai Forbath and Marshall Koehn have been competing throughout the spring and camp, while Ryan Quigley and Taylor Symmank are jockeying for the punting job.

Marcus Sherels was one of three players to have two punt returns for touchdowns in 2016, but Thursday could allow Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer to get a good look at a handful of young returners — including Adams and Coley — for kick return duties.

Stephen Hauschka is the only kicker on Buffalo’s roster, but the Bills have a pair of punters in Colton Schmidt and Austin Rehkow.

Over The Years 

The Vikings are 8-5 all-time against Buffalo. Minnesota won seven of its first nine matchups between 1971 and 2000.

Last meeting: Bills 17, Vikings 16, Oct. 19, 2014, in Buffalo

The Vikings lost a heartbreaker in Zimmer’s first season as head coach. 

Minnesota led 16-10 with three minutes left, but the Bills orchestrated an 80-yard drive to score a last-second touchdown. Quarterback Kyle Orton found Watkins for a 2-yard touchdown with just one second left, and the ensuing extra point gave Buffalo the win.

McKinnon ran for 103 yards in the loss, and Griffen had 3.0 sacks on the day.