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6 Big-Picture Items Enlightened by Vikings Preseason

EAGAN, Minn. — Now the real fun begins.

The Vikings wrapped up the preseason at Tennessee on Thursday night, ending the exhibition slate with a 13-3 win over the Titans and a record of 3-1 in four games.

Minnesota will now turn its focus to its 2018 season opener, a Week 1 tilt on Sept. 9 at U.S. Bank Stadium against the San Francisco 49ers. Kickoff is at noon (CT).

But before the Vikings embark on what the team hopes is a deep playoff run, let's look back at what stood out over the past month during preseason play and training camp.

Here are six takeaways from Vikings.com writers Eric Smith, Lindsey Young and Craig Peters:

Kirk and Co. | By @Eric_L_Smith

The preseason is often looked at as a series of dress rehearsals to get ready for the regular season. If that's the case, then it was mostly positive reviews for the Vikings offense.

Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins completed 24 of 40 passes for 236 yards with a touchdown in three preseason games as the new face of the franchise played a total of three-plus quarters.

Cousins and the Vikings offense marched down the field for a touchdown in the opening drive in Denver, struggled against a stout Jacksonville defense and then regrouped to perform well against Seattle.

Stefon Diggs was one of Cousins' favorite targets, as the wide receiver had seven catches for 86 yards and a score in preseason play. Running back Latavius Murray also looked strong with 79 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries, and Dalvin Cook completed his comeback from an ACL injury by playing sparingly in the third preseason game.

One other area to make note of is that Cousins and the Vikings got plenty of situational work in the preseason. Besides a scoring drive on the opening possession in Denver, Cousins also directed a 97-yard scoring drive and a 2-minute drill against the Seahawks.

Those early experiences could come in handy in 2018, especially because all eyes will be on Cousins and the Vikings offense.

Danielle, depth highlight DL | By @Eric_L_Smith

The Vikings defensive line might be one of the biggest strengths on a stout Vikings defense. And no player stood out more from that unit over the past month than Danielle Hunter.

The defensive end signed a contract extension in late June and then looked like a star in practices and games. Hunter had four total tackles, including a sack and two tackles for loss, in the preseason. But he routinely pressured the opposing quarterback with a variety of moves.

That was consistent with his performance in practice, too. When the Vikings hosted the Jaguars for joint practices, Hunter effectively ended a 2-minute drill for Jacksonville's offense by himself by racking up two "sacks" in three plays.

The 23-year-old with 25.5 career sacks, the most of any player drafted in 2015, could be in line for a big year.

There are plenty of playmakers and depth around Hunter, too, as the Vikings employ a strong rotation of linemen.

If the Vikings can trot out a menacing cycle of linemen, it could keep players fresh throughout the season and make their ferocious defense even better.

Continuing to make O-line adjustments | By @LindseyMNSports

The Vikings are no strangers to challenges on the offensive line, so the team rolled with the punches this spring and summer when the unit was hit by injuries.

Center Pat Elflein remains on the Physically Unable to Perform list as he rehabs from shoulder and ankle injuries suffered last season. Nick Easton had been filling in for Elflein but required neck surgery and was put on Injured Reserve, so Cornelius Edison has been taking the first-team reps at center with Cousins. The Vikings also traded for former Giants center Brett Jones earlier this week, and he made his debut with the team against the Titans Thursday.

Mike Remmers and Rashod Hill recently returned to action at right guard and right tackle, respectively, and should be ready to go for the regular season. Tom Compton – who signed with Minnesota in free agency – has been primarily playing that left guard spot next to Riley Reiff.

Beyond the first-teamers, a number of young linemen have been moved around, including second-year tackle Aviante Collins, whom coaches also got a look at on the interior of the line this preseason. Danny Isidora, a 2017 fifth-round pick, has taken reps with the first- and second-team offense and started at center on Thursday at Tennessee.

Moving ahead toward the regular season, Minnesota's starting five offensive linemen have yet to be set in stone.

Hughes learning quickly in talented Vikings secondary | By @LindseyMNSports

The Vikings drafted Mike Hughes with the 30th overall pick, and thus far the rookie has been impressive.

Hughes got right to work, and during training camp he played both outside corner and in the slot, a position he didn't play much of at Central Florida. While he has primarily worked with the second-team defense, Hughes also took some reps at nickel with the first team, where Mackensie Alexander typically holds court. Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer and Defensive Coordinator George Edwards have each praised Hughes' ability to catch on quickly.

Hughes also has been working on special teams and has gotten a chance to return kickoffs and punts.

Hughes is just one facet of a talented Vikings secondary that boasts a lot of depth. All-Pros Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith are back at corner and safety, respectively; Alexander, Trae Waynes and Terence Newman – who will turn 40 next week – join to make up the stable of primary cornerbacks. Marcus Sherels, whose primary role historically has been as a special teams standout, also remains on the roster. The Minnesota native had a strong showing throughout training camp, even nabbing the team's first two picks of camp.

Andrew Sendejo and Anthony Harris also are returning and played well throughout camp. Through the first three preseason games, Harris led Minnesota with two interceptions and tied with Ifeadi Odenigbo for the team lead in sacks (2.0). Jayron Kearse continued to contribute on special teams and the second-team defense.

The Vikings added to an already deep secondary when they signed seventh-year safety George Iloka, who was unexpectedly released by the Bengals. Illoka spent the 2012-13 seasons in Cincinnati under Zimmer, which has made for a smoother transition into Minnesota's defense.

Linebackers taking another step | By @pcraigers

Anyone who has watched the Vikings defense for any amount of time in the past three to four seasons has become quite familiar with Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks. Barr, a 2014 first-round pick, and Kendricks, a 2015 second rounder, have been vital to the Vikings defensive success and have rarely left the field.

Aside from that dynamic duo, the Vikings have a pair of second-year players in Ben Gedeon, a fourth-round selection who started as the third linebacker when Minnesota was in its base defense, and Eric Wilson, an undrafted 2017 addition, who garnered more playing time this preseason. Gedeon and Wilson were able to get in on the fun that linebackers can have in the Vikings defense during preseason games.

The Vikings are evaluating beyond those four players and know that Kentrell Brothers and Antwione Williams are scheduled to miss time in the coming weeks because of suspensions.

Special teams recap | By @pcraigers

The Vikings opened the offseason with a competition at kicker between veteran Kai Forbath and fifth-round pick Daniel Carlson. The two kickers pushed each other before Carlson won the job prior to Minnesota's third preseason game.

Carlson showcased his leg strength with a 57-yard field goal in Denver to open the preseason and during kickoffs at multiple times during the exhibition slate.

Carlson finished the preseason 4-for-6 on field goals and 7-for-7 on extra points. Three of Carlson's kickoffs on Thursday resulted in touchbacks, and the fourth was only returned 17 yards.

Ryan Quigley and the punt coverage unit bounced back from a less than ideal day against Seattle. Quigley punted four times, averaging 46.0 yards per boot. He had one downed inside the 20-yard line and benefited from a great bounce during an effort that netted 61 yards and was not returned.

The Titans tried to return two punts, but both attempts netted zero yards.

Minnesota dabbled with multiple options behind Marcus Sherels for returning kickoffs and punts. The Vikings averaged 7.4 yards per punt return and allowed 14.2 per boot during the preseason.

The Vikings also averaged 26.0 yards per kickoff return, which was boosted with a 53-yard effort by Holton Hill in Tennessee.

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