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Vikings Position Battles Entering Final Stretch of Preseason

EAGAN, Minn. — Vikings position battles are entering their final week of the preseason.

After two days of joint practices with the Titans and a second preseason game, the Vikings will continue their evaluations of players with two joint practices against the Cardinals.

During the Vikings 24-16 home loss on Saturday, Minnesota played seven receivers, four running backs, and six interior defensive linemen. There are still questions in the return game, but clarity at kicker already has been decided.

With teams scheduled to reduce their rosters from 90 or 91 players to 53 or 54, let's highlight four position battles to watch.

Sorting out speed and talent at receiver

The Vikings roster four receivers who were drafted in a first round: Justin Jefferson, Jordan Addison, N'Keal Harry and Jalen Reagor. While Jefferson and Addison are projected starters, Harry and Reagor are battling for roster spots.

Reagor caught two of his five targets for 10 yards on Saturday, pushing his preseason stat line to six catches for 65 yards.

"Jalen Reagor's speed, we kind of tried to get him over [the top of the defense a] couple times tonight," Head Coach Kevin O'Connell said Saturday. "Either the pocket or coverage didn't allow it. His speed is a real factor."

Reagor played 37 of 63 (59%) offensive snaps. Only Trishton Jackson (41) played more at wide receiver. As O'Connell detailed, the team dialed some deep shots for Reagor, who was acquired in a trade last year. Protection issues upfront didn't allow quarterback Nick Mullens enough time to throw catchable balls on both of Reagor's downfield opportunities.

Jackson also caught two passes for 10 yards. He was targeted four times.

The team hoped Harry would be able to play, but the 6-foot-4 receiver was a late scratch.

"N'Keal Harry was the only player we planned on having that had a little bit of a soft tissue kind of aggravation in warmups, and we wanted to be smart with him instead of trying to make him push through it," O'Connell said. "That was unfortunate. We wanted to see him tonight."

Harry did not participate in Monday's session as the Vikings returned to practice after an off day for players. He'll hope to be back for opportunities against the Cardinals.

The team is also excited about second-year receiver Jalen Nailor returning from injury. He returned on Monday after missing several weeks with a leg injury. As a rookie, he gained 179 yards and one touchdown on nine receptions in 15 games.

"He's a player that I think very highly of and just want to continue to see how that whole group, especially on the back end, fits with how we want to play with multiple personnel groupings," O'Connell said.

Return man, please stand up

Reagor handled punt return duties for the Vikings in 2022, but Minnesota is also evaluating Brandon Powell.

After fair-catching a short punt at the Minnesota 17 in his first opportunity and having his second try (a 6-yard return) negated by a penalty, Powell sprung free for a 16-yard return to the Minnesota 30.

"Brandon Powell has had an excellent training camp, doing so many things I don't think people realize sometimes, all the different jobs he can do," O'Connell said.

Powell also made several highlight grabs during competitive sessions against the Titans in the joint practices.

At Monday's practice, Powell caught a deep pass down the middle from Mullens during a 7-on-7 session. Addison, who missed a bit of time while in the concussion protocol, returned to practice wearing a red "no contact" jersey and participated in 7-on-7 and team periods.

Sizing up interior defensive line

The Vikings allowed 281 rushing yards against the Titans. Quarterback Malik Willis accounted for 91 yards on several quarterback scrambles. Rookie running back Tyjae Spears scored in the first half and finished with 57 rushing yards on seven carries. Julius Chestnut added 10 carries for 93 yards and a touchdown in the second half. *

O'Connell attributed some big runs to the Vikings defense playing a vanilla scheme. While the Titans played their starting offensive line 16 snaps for three series.

Regardless, defensive tackle Sheldon Day stood out by making a diving strip-sack of quarterback Malik Willis in the second quarter. The play lost 11 yards and forced a Tennessee punt two downs later.

"I can think back to Sheldon Day making an impact early on when we forced the negative run when Malik went backward there a little bit," O'Connell said.

Defensive tackle T.J Smith played one more snap than Day (40 over 39). Both anchored the Viking's interior defensive line as projected interior starters Jonathan Bullard, Dean Lowry, Khyiris Tonga and Harrison Phillips did not play.

"Esezi [Otomewo] popped a couple times on the backside of some run plays. Blacklock is always going to be so active in different phases. That group is going to be tough to figure out what the numbers look like," O'Connell said. "Then, ultimately, what does it look like depending on the personnel grouping where we need a 3- and 5-technique, we need a bigger body nose behind Tonga. Making sure it all works while we can potentially keep the numbers we may have to at some other positions. It's not going to be easy."

Establishing the running game

Running back Ty Chandler spent time after Monday's practice working on footwork and pass protection drills with starting running back Alexander Mattison and fullback C.J. Ham. Fresh off an 11-carry-for-24-yard performance on Saturday, Chandler said he is all ears to any time veteran players share knowledge.

"If he's teaching, then I'm out there listening," Chandler said Monday. "He's always giving out valuable information. He's a wise guy, a great leader, and a teammate. So, I enjoy getting the chance to work with him and absorb the information."

Chandler was electric in Week 1 of the preseason versus Seattle. He touched the ball a combined 15 times for 70 total yards. Kene Nwangwu has been sidelined this month with an undisclosed ailment.

Mattison is poised to be the lead running back, and Chandler keeps progressing in his second season.

Rookie DeWayne McBride scored the team's lone touchdown on Saturday, a 1-yard rush following a defensive pass interference call in the end zone. He finished with six carries for 18 yards. He also caught one pass for 11 yards.

Rookie running back Aaron Dykes signed with the Vikings on Thursday, just in time for him to earn some work. He returned the game's opening kickoff 38 yards and gained 19 rushing yards on three carries in his debut.

Dykes finished with five kick returns for 112 yards.

"To see Dykes come in and hit some backdoor cuts on a duo, got it all the way back, almost behind the backside tackle on his own, things that, sometimes guys that haven't been in the system a whole lot don't do. I thought that was exciting," O'Connell said. "Getting downhill, really moving the team for the first time all night via the run, so... It was good to see those guys get in there. We're going to allow those guys to play an absolute ton next week, compete to try to win a game."

Kicker clarity

A few days after officially winning his training camp kicking competition, Greg Joseph was perfect at U.S. Bank on Saturday. He hit kicks of 26, 33, and 45 yards versus Tennessee and made his lone extra-point try.

The team waived undrafted rookie Jack Podlesny, signaling that the job again belongs to Joseph.