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What are your thoughts on the roster and also Week 1 against GB? I can't believe the season is here already.
— Jim Jenkins in Mankato, Minnesota
Jim starts us off with a pair of hot topics, but we'll begin with his question about the Vikings 53-man roster as it stands now.
Offensively, there is lots of continuity because 21 of the 26 players on that side of the all are back from a season ago. That includes big names such as Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen, Kyle Rudolph and Brian O'Neill, but also players who were here in 2019 who are expected to have a larger role in 2019. A few names that come to mind for that latter group include Dakota Dozier, Bisi Johnson and Irv Smith, Jr.
Defensively, there are a handful of new faces — hello, Yannick Ngakoue! — but the core remains the same, especially at linebacker and safety. The cornerbacks are young, yes, but the group of Mike Hughes, Holton Hill, Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler looked more than capable in camp.
It's expected that the roster will have its usual ebb and flows throughout the season, mostly due to injuries. But it also helps that the practice squad can have a max of 16 players, and there are plenty of familiar faces there, too.
View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of January 4, 2021.
Overall, I like how the team looks as it stands today — and Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer does, too. All of the sudden, Week 1 of the 2020 season is upon us.
As for Sunday's game against Green Bay, I expect the same heated and intense rivalry that we've seen in the previous 119 Border Battles. The atmosphere will certainly be different with no fans, but players on both sides will be fired up by kickoff.
It's only Week 1, but both teams also know the importance of this game, as the Vikings and Packers have combined for 14 of the 18 NFC North titles since the NFL was realigned in 2002.
Start 1-0 and you're already in a good spot to open the season, including a win over your bitter rival.
View photos of Vikings DE Yannick Ngakoue who had his first practice with the team on Sept. 3.
I feel like signing Yannick gives the Vikings coaches, namely Mike Zimmer, more time to work with the corners now. Shouldn't have to worry as much about the line now. What say you?
— Troy in Lakeville
You make a good point, Troy. In theory, the addition of Ngakoue should boost the overall defense and could allow Zimmer to focus more on the young cornerback group.
And there's reason to believe he'll be focused on the secondary, which might include checking in with defensive backs coach Daronte Jones and advisor Dom Capers for their input on how the youngsters are progressing.
But I think he'll stay up to tabs on the defensive line, too. He is close with Vikings Co-Defensive Coordinator Andre Patterson, who is also the defensive line coach. Patterson will certainly have his guys ready to play Sunday, but Zimmer will want to see how Ngakoue — and others — are doing as the season gets underway.
Obviously, Kirk Cousins has the starting QB position locked up. But how much competition was there been for QB2 between Sean Mannion, Jake Browning, and Nate Stanley?
— Jude Ogden in Menomonie, Wisconsin
Thanks for the email, Jude, and for the support in Stanley's hometown in that certain state you live in. (Sorry, it's Packers Week around here).
It's hard to argue with experience at the position. The Vikings went with Mannion as the backup to Cousins, but brought back Stanley and Browning to the practice squad. That tells me they like the potential those two showed in camp, even if they didn't make the 53-man roster. All the quarterbacks showed flashes in camp, but for Browning and Stanley, it's about continuing to progress.
Keeping two quarterbacks on a larger practice squad also gives the Vikings depth in case something happens to either Cousins or Mannion in 2020.
Now Everson Griffen is gone and we have his replacement, what about the leadership Everson meant to the team?
— Michael Murphy
This question actually came up a few weeks ago, and I thought Vikings Co-Defensive Coordinator Adam Zimmer had a great answer:
"I think it's a collective thing. I think Eric Kendricks provides that a lot – he's quite vocal with the way he attacks the game because he loves to play. I love watching him come out of the tunnel every Sunday because he runs out there like he's running out to recess like a kid. So, I think he's one of the guys. Obviously, [Harrison Smith is] a little quieter, but he can get intense and fiery, too. I think that's just a collective thing as a unit, and we'll have a lot of guys that do that."
There is no doubt that Griffen was the vocal leader of the Vikings in recent years, and that he poured his heart and soul into the team on the field. But now that he's in Dallas, his voice will have to be replaced by a few people, much like Adam Zimmer said.
And for what it's worth, we know Cousins can give a pregame speech with the best of them.
Whatever happened to Aviante Collins staring at left guard and Dakota Dozier starting at right guard? They're bigger, and don't get pushed around on the pass rush like Pat Elflein does.
— Duane Miller
The duo of Collins and Dozier as the starting guards never materialized in camp, as Elflein moved to the right side and was inked in as the starter for all of camp.
Teammates and coaches say he feels more comfortable there, so let's hope for a strong season from Elflein after he had an up-and-down year in 2019.
Dozier, meanwhile, won the starting left guard job over Collins in camp. Dozier is a veteran who has a history with Vikings offensive line coach Rick Dennison and has built the trust of the coaching staff and his teammates. (Although Collins did not make the 53-man roster, he is on the Vikings practice squad.)
It's worth noting that the presumed starting five up front — Riley Reiff, Dozier, Garrett Bradbury, Elflein and O'Neill — played three games together in 2019, with Elflein at left guard and Dozier at right guard.