KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Vikings have hit the road for their third (and final) preseason game.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer's team will square off against the Chiefs at 7 tonight from Arrowhead Stadium. Minnesota is 0-2 in preseason play so far, but Zimmer said he's looking forward to seeing how his players respond away from home for the first time in 2021.
"It's always good to go on the road to a place that has a loud crowd," Zimmer said. "We anticipate it will be loud there, so it will be good experience for when we get into the regular season.
"Excited to see these guys play," Zimmer added. "I want to see them execute and really just do the things we've been working on."
Zimmer said multiple times Wednesday that the plan for playing time "will be similar to last week," meaning the Vikings first-team offense and defense could play a quarter or so based on how things go.
That also means key players such as Danielle Hunter, Justin Jefferson, Dalvin Cook and Harrison Smith are unlikely to play against the Chiefs. Zimmer also said Wednesday that Adam Thielen won't play after getting dinged by a knee to the thigh in the second preseason game.
And while tonight's game is important for the starters, it's also critical for dozens of other players who are trying to make the initial 53-man roster, which will be announced Tuesday.
View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of Jan. 5, 2022.
With that in mind, here are five Vikings position groups to keep an eye on tonight:
1. Backup quarterbacks
Jake Browning and Kellen Mond have one final chance to impress coaches. And while it's a massive moment for each player, it's significant in different ways, too.
Browning was red-hot early in camp, including when he was the lone quarterback available, but has fizzled out a bit in preseason games.
He has completed 11 of 25 passes for 63 yards with an interception returned for a touchdown, and Zimmer has also noted he's looked "skittish" in the pocket. This is Browning's time to show that he can be the Vikings backup quarterback in 2021.
Mond isn't in danger of being cut since he's a third-round pick, but tonight's game is key for him, too, as it's likely the last actual game action he's likely to see until the 2022 preseason slate.
Mond has progressed in practice recently, but he hasn't brought a spark to the field in games just yet. He has an opportunity to go out on a high note before he likely spends the 2021 season adjusting to life in the NFL and honing his craft behind the scenes.
Nate Stanley also could see action, too, but it's unknown where he is at health-wise. Stanley missed practices earlier this month due to the league's COVID protocols, and then got hurt a few days after returning. He could be on the practice squad again in 2021.
2. Reserve offensive linemen
Minnesota's starting five is set up front, with Brian O'Neill (right tackle) and Garrett Bradbury (center) in their same spots from a season ago. Ezra Cleveland has moved from right guard to left guard and will start.
The two other spots are currently filled by left tackle Rashod Hill and right guard Olisaemeka Udoh. Beyond that group of five, however, questions remain about the Vikings offensive line.
Do the Vikings keep nine or 10 linemen? A handful of players could make that a difficult decision based on how they play in the preseason finale.
Christian Darrisaw and Wyatt Davis will be on the roster, and Zimmer has praised Blake Brandel of late. But the other handful of spots could come down to the likes of Mason Cole, Dakota Dozier, Dru Samia, Kyle Hinton and Cohl Cabral on the interior.
Keep an eye on this group once the starters exit against the Chiefs.
3. 3rd tight end
The Vikings will surely run multiple tight end sets on offense this season, meaning Irv Smith, Jr., and Tyler Conklin will get plenty of work.
But the third tight end will also be a key piece, and that spot still appears to be up for grabs.
Brandon Dillon and Zach Davidson both took first-team reps Wednesday, and both primarily ran with the second-team offense throughout camp, but neither appears to have a firm grasp on the job.
Either player could state his case with a big game. Through two preseason games, Dillon has two catches for 19 yards, while Davidson has one reception for six yards.
Shane Zylstra, another tight end on the roster, has one catch for two yards in preseason play. And while he could be on the practice squad this year, he turned heads with a 51-yard touchdown catch in Tuesday's practice.
The Vikings are looking for any of these players to step up in Kansas City.
4. Young wide receivers
Minnesota still boasts one of the top (if not the best) wide receiver duos in the league in Jefferson and Thielen. Dede Westbrook could also contribute once he is fully healthy from his recovery from a torn ACL.
But others on the roster — including youngsters such as K.J. Osborn and Ihmir Smith-Marsette — are still looking for consistency as they continue to progress.
With Jefferson and Thielen unlikely to play, this is a chance for Osborn and Smith-Marsette, plus others such as Chad Beebe, Whop Philyor and Myron Mitchell to help the quarterbacks generate some offense.
Dan Chisena is also fighting for a roster spot and has been solid on special teams, but he landed hard while making a catch in Tuesday's practice and might not be able to play.
5. Depth at safety
Harrison Smith and Xavier Woods are set as the starting safeties. And based on Woods' health, there's a chance he might not play, as Zimmer held him out of last week's game as a precaution.
If neither plays, that puts the spotlight on a pair of players who are essentially rookies. Camryn Bynum was a fourth-round pick this spring and is switching to the position after playing cornerback in college. And Myles Dorn is practically a rookie after he spent all of last year on Injured Reserve.
Both players have seen significant action in the first two preseason games. Bynum actually leads all Vikings defensive players with 112 total snaps, and Dorn has been on the field for 73 total defensive plays.
Reserve and core special teamer Josh Metellus left Tuesday's scrimmage after going down during a special teams rep. The other Vikings safety is Luther Kirk.
Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City's high-flying, first-team offense could provide tremendous challenges for Bynum and Dorn.