EAGAN, Minn. — Get ready to see most of the starters under the lights at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Minnesota is scheduled to host Indianapolis at 7 p.m. (CT) Saturday, and the difference between who is opening this week for the Vikings could be night and day from last Saturday afternoon against Denver.
With 30-plus starters and key players out last week, Minnesota opened the preseason with a dud, leading Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer to comment Thursday that he wants to see a better performance this time around.
"I think we need to have a little success. I think we need to build a little confidence," Zimmer said. "That's why most of our guys will end up playing some.
"This week is going to be an important week for a lot of those guys. The same thing with the backup guys, too," Zimmer later added.
Zimmer also noted Thursday that he wants Minnesota's starters to get into their pregame routines.
"Like I told the coaches, 'Just tell them to play until I tell them to get out.' There's no set number of plays that they're going to play. Just however I feel," Zimmer said. "Like, I was talking to Adam Thielen today, and he said it's important that we go through the pregame routine – get pumped up to go and all the structure of what we're going to go through for a game – as well.
"I probably should have had them do that last week. They just came and worked out last week, and they didn't go through that pregame stuff," Zimmer added. "They'll do all that this week, and we'll go from there."
The Colts defeated the Panthers in their preseason opener on Sunday.
View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of Jan. 5, 2022.
Here are five Vikings players to keep an eye on Saturday night:
1. Kirk Cousins
The Vikings starting quarterback has endured a bit of a whirlwind over the past three weeks, whether it was missing practices due to the NFL's COVID-19 protocols or taking some time to get back in the swing of things after five days away.
Cousins did OK against the Broncos in joint sessions, sat out of the preseason opener and had an up-and-down week at practice leading up to this game.
The quarterback has usually gotten at least a little work in the preseason (he played 53 total snaps in 2019), and it appears like he'll get some work Saturday night.
How will he fare in his first game action against a stout Colts defense? Will he be rusty? Or will he look like he's ready to go for Week 1 against the Bengals?
Some of those answers could depend on the offensive line. Speaking of…
2. Olisaemeka Udoh
The five starting spots on the Vikings offensive line appear set, as that unit will be manned by, from left to right, Rashod Hill, Ezra Cleveland, Garrett Bradbury, Olisaemeka Udoh and Brian O'Neill.
There are storylines around each of them — Cleveland is at a new position, and Bradbury is looking to take another step forward in Year 3 — but inquiring eyes will be on Udoh, who is also in a new spot.
A tackle for his first two seasons in Purple, Udoh switched to right guard just before training camp started. And it's looking like he won the battle at right guard against Dakota Dozier, a decision that seems to be supported by Udoh sitting out of the preseason opener.
Now, Udoh gets his first chance to show his skills in a game. He could face a monster in the middle in Colts defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, who has his way against the Vikings in Week 2 of the 2020 season (and as a member of the 49ers in the Divisional Round).
3. Cameron Dantzler
Dantzler hasn't been taking first-team reps the past few weeks, as Minnesota has decided on Patrick Peterson, Bashaud Breeland and Mackensie Alexander (in the slot) as the starting cornerbacks.
But Dantzler, a second-year player, will still be counted upon to play a key role in 2021. Zimmer is fond of saying that depth at cornerback is crucial to any team's success, and Dantzler could be an X-factor as the season goes along.
He will need to be better Saturday than he was in the preseason opener, however, when he was sped past for an 80-yard touchdown pass in the opening quarter.
Dantzler certainly has potential, and gained experience with 11 starts as a rookie, but you can bet Zimmer wants to see a better showing from him against Indianapolis.
4. Zach Davidson
Minnesota's top two tight ends are set, as Irv Smith, Jr., and Tyler Conklin are each set to play pivotal roles in the offense.
But the third tight end spot is still up for grabs — and with Conklin not practicing recently and likely out of Saturday's game — snaps will be there for the taking against the Colts.
This could be Davidson's moment to shine as he looks to separate himself from Brandon Dillon and Shane Zylstra in the battle for TE3.
"What a great opportunity for Zach, more reps," Vikings Offensive Coordinator Klint Kubiak said Wednesday. "He's made some real improvements. He really competes his tail off, is working hard with [tight ends coach Brian] Pariani.
"These game reps will be really important for Zach," Kubiak added. "I've got to see him take another step. He's got to make some plays for us. He's capable of it, but he's got to go do it in a game."
Keep an eye on Davidson on offense. He's 6-foot-7 and tough to miss.
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5. Ihmir Smith-Marsette
Smith-Marsette was perhaps among the flashiest rookies in training camp, as he showed good skills as a receiver. Zimmer said he needed to improve on special teams, but that is to be expected from a rookie.
Fast forward to the preseason opener, and Smith-Marsette had two catches for 12 yards. But he was targeted six times, and had a pair of drops early on.
He also had two kick returns for 42 yards, including a long of 30 yards. Smith-Marsette appeared to have some early jitters, as he slipped and fell down on his first return that went 12 yards.
Smith-Marsette is still in the mix for a roster spot and could be a contributor if he does indeed make it, but he'll need a bit of a bounce back game against the Colts.