It's 74 days until the Vikings meet the Steelers in the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio, but Minnesota and Pittsburgh opened their organized team activity practices Tuesday.
The Vikings will have their second of 10 OTA practices Wednesday and first that is open. The Steelers first OTA was open to media, who reported that Pittsburgh started the day by working on two-point conversion plays* *from the 2-yard line a week after NFL owners voted to make point after touchdown kicks 33 yards by moving the line of scrimmage on those plays to the 15.
Teams have the option of going for two, which in the past was usually done out of necessity because of the almost automatic nature of a 20-yard PAT attempt, and defenses will have an opportunity to score two points by returning a turnover or a blocked or short kick attempt under the rule that is currently only in effect for 2015.
"Coach told me we were going to do it, and I was a little prepared for it," Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger told Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "It was a little surprising knowing that we haven't put in red zone yet and they haven't put in red-zone defense yet. That's going to be a big part of the game now: teams consciously going for two or at least debating it."
Kaboly reported that the Steelers have lead the league in two-point percentage at 72.7 percent since 2001. Pittsburgh went 4-for-4 on conversion attempts in 2014, the same success the Vikings had last season in their first year under Head Coach Mike Zimmer.
Vikings.com debated the potential impact of the rule change here, and ESPN.com's Ben Goessling took a look at a couple of factors that "might work in the Vikings' favor should they decide to go for two more often in 2015."
View images from the first of ten OTA's.
First, only one player (DeMarco Murray) had more touchdowns from two yards or less in 2014 than Matt Asiata, who scored five times from that distance in 2014. Asiata had nine rushing touchdowns in just 164 carries last year. He was also the only player in the league to rush for a pair of two-point conversions, scoring once from the 2-yard line and once from the 1 after a pair of Miami Dolphins penalties in Week 16. No matter what the Vikings' backfield looks like in 2015, Asiata figures to have a role around the goal line, and he's certainly an asset in two-point situations.
It should be noted that all four of the Vikings' successful conversions last year were in the fourth quarter, when the game situation called for a two-point try to go ahead by 7 or 3, pull within 8 or tie the game. It wasn't as though coach Mike Zimmer was doing anything unorthodox; few NFL teams do, when an extra point is as automatic as it's been. Given how accurate kickers have been on 33-yard field goals, the longer extra point doesn't figure to be a major challenge. But if teams find there's a payoff to going for two more often, the Vikings could be in position to build on last year's success.
NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks, a former scout, likes the core of talent the Vikings have assembled.
Greg Gabriel shined a "spotlight" on the NFC North for players who are poised to make a jump in their second pro seasons and mentioned defensive end Scott Crichton as a candidate to do so for the Vikings.