You're up, regular season! The Vikings and the rest of the NFL concluded preseason action on Thursday night. Up next for the Vikings is a date with the New Orleans Saints on September 11 as part of ESPN's Week 1 Monday Night Football doubleheader. Before we can preview the regular season, though, here's a quick review of the preseason.
1. First-team defense, offense have work to do before Week 1
The Vikings carry with them in 2017 one of the best defenses the NFL saw in 2016 and they used the offseason to aggressively fill needs on offense with the drafting of running back Dalvin Cook and center Pat Elflein and the free agent signings of running back Latavius Murray, left tackle Riley Reiff and right tackle Mike Remmers. In their four preseason games, however, the first-team offense didn't reach the end zone and the first-team defense allowed more big plays than head coach Mike Zimmer is willing to accept. That doesn't mean all the progress the Vikings made on defense and offense during the offseason is for not. Rather, it means Zimmer and Co. have 10 days to make corrections and be ready for Drew Brees, Adrian Peterson and the New Orleans Saints.
2. Draft picks, undrafted rookies played well
The moment wasn't too big for more than a handful of Vikings rookies this preseason. Drafted and undrafted, the Vikings had several youngsters stand out on both sides of the ball. Defensively, an already-deep group up front appears to be getting deeper, with fourth-rounder Jaleel Johnson opening eyes in each game at defensive tackle and undrafted Tashawn Bower flashing consistently at defensive end. At the second level, it appears as if fourth-rounder Ben Gedeon is poised to earn a starting role at outside linebacker. On offense, running back Dalvin Cook continued to shine and center Pat Elflein saw action with the first team. Rookie receivers Stacy Coley and Rodney Adams were productive, too, with Coley hauling in 10 receptions for 165 yards and Adams totaling nine receptions for 73 yards and two touchdowns.
3. Depth is developing along the offensive line
Could the Vikings be developing depth along the offensive line? It's still a work in progress, but there are several quality pieces in place. The starting five for the third preseason game was (from left to right) Riley Reiff, Alex Boone, Nick Easton, Joe Berger and Mike Remmers. That lineup didn't include Elflein, who earned reps with the first team in practice and got the start in the second preseason game. Also, offensive tackle Rashod Hill saw plenty of time with the first team while Reiff was on the mend during training camp and the first two preseason games. Undrafted free agent Aviante Collins has flashed potential, head coach Mike Zimmer had positive things to say about rookie offensive guard Danny Isidora, the Vikings know what they have in versatile veteran Jeremiah Sirles and Willie Beavers and TJ Clemmings – draft picks from last year – are battling for spots on the depth chart.
4. McKinnon really can do it all
We already knew Jerick McKinnon could run, catch, block and tackle. He's been a quality change of pace back capable in both the running game and the passing game (as a blocker and receiver). He's been a member of multiple phases on special teams, both as a blocker on return groups and as a member of kickoff and punt coverage teams. But now you can add kickoff returner to his resume. McKinnon ripped off a 108-yard kickoff return for touchdown against San Francisco in the third preseason game, perhaps solidifying his role as the returner for the regular season. There aren't many players in the whole league who can do as many things to help their team as McKinnon can do to help the Vikings.
5. For the most part, health is intact
In football, health is a relative term. No one is completely healthy once training camp starts. But generally speaking when it comes to the Vikings two-deep roster in all three phases of the game, the Vikings exit the preseason relatively healthy. That is nothing to take for granted. Every season, teams across the League lose players to injury before the season even starts, just as the Vikings did a year ago with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. So for as many issues as there are to correct for the Vikings (and every other team this time of year), one thing they aren't dealing with at the moment (knock on wood) is a rash of injuries to key contributors.