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Presser Points: Zimmer on Evaluations During 'Different' Preseason

EAGAN, Minn. — The initial schedule for this week included a road game Sunday in Cleveland and a home preseason finale against Seattle on Thursday.

A Tuesday practice is usually the only session between the third and fourth preseason games in a normal year, but 2020 is anything but normal.

The COVID-19 pandemic prompted the cancelation of all preseason games and led to multiple operational changes.

The Vikings practiced Sunday, Monday and have another session today.

Head Coach Mike Zimmer changed a Wednesday session to a jog-through and then an off day for players. The team will return to action Thursday.

"Today we're going to play another fourth quarter, trying to get them some game-like experience as best as we can," Zimmer said. "It is different, but I feel like we've had enough time to prepare. I feel like what we need to start doing now is, after today, just start figuring out exactly what we're good at and then kind of go in that direction in all three phases."

Zimmer was asked the best positive of the unusual preseason and said continuing to see improvements.

"The first day you start out, and it looks like this. The second day, it looks a little bit better," Zimmer said. "I feel like we've continued to improve. I think both sides of the ball have improved. I guess that's the best positive out of it."

View photos of Vikings players from Verizon Vikings Training Camp practice at TCO Performance Center.

Here are four other topics covered by Zimmer.

1. Difficult evaluations with cuts looming

The Vikings have 80 players on the roster, which was the maximum for the 2020 preseason that was agreed on by the NFL and NFL Players Association.

All teams are scheduled to reduce their rosters to the regular-season maximum of 53 players by 3 p.m. (CT) Saturday. They can form 16-player practice squads on Sunday.

In the absence of games, it is a little tougher on coaches to evaluate rookies, and Minnesota has no shortage of first-year players. The Vikings drafted an NFL Draft seven-round record of 15 picks back in April. Penultimate pick Brian Cole II has been released, but 14 members of the class remain.

"So that factors into the equation, as well," Zimmer said. "You don't want to give up on a guy too soon, but you don't want to hope that he's going to get better down the road and you release somebody that might be improving just as much, as well."

2. Assessing Ngakoue

Zimmer's session Tuesday was his first media session since the trade for Yannick Ngakoue has become official. The defensive end who recorded 37.5 sacks and 14 forced fumbles in four seasons with Jacksonville isn't set to hit the field for Minnesota until Thursday.

"He's a guy that has had a lot of statistics as far as forced fumbles, sacks," Zimmer said. "[He's] another pass rusher to add to our group, so we're excited to have him."

Zimmer was asked if the Vikings plan to play Ngakoue at right defensive end and countered by asking, "Is it OK if I just see him at practice one day?"

View photos of new Vikings DE Yannick Ngakoue who was recently traded to the team.

The Vikings did have the benefit of 2018 joint practices against Jacksonville and a preseason game in which Ngakoue recorded four tackles and a sack on 28 defensive snaps.

"Well, we remember when he was with them," Zimmer said. "We did talk about that, yes."

The Vikings also talked with Dom Capers, a senior defensive assistant who spent 2019 in Jacksonville before joining Minnesota.

"Well, we obviously talked to Dom about him, not only as a football player, but as a person, and if he would fit in right with the culture that we have here," Zimmer said.

3. Wait and see

Zimmer was asked about the status of Riley Reiff, who did not practice Sunday or Monday.

"Let's just see where things are today, OK? I don't want to speculate on anything right now," Zimmer said.

Reiff has been working at left tackle with the first team for most of camp.

Right tackle Brian O'Neill shifted to left tackle on Sunday during the final camp practice that was open to media members.

4. Down the line

Zimmer was asked about the progress of Rashod Hill, who has carved out a role as Minnesota's swing tackle/sub for the past four seasons and made 16 regular-season starts along the way, as well as second-year pro Olisaemeka Udoh.

"Rashod has improved an awful lot since he's been here," Zimmer said. "I think his record is [10-5-1] as a starting player, so we have a lot of confidence in Rashod. He's a big, strong guy that does a nice job in pass protection. He's played well when he's been in there."

As for Udoh, who first appeared in last year's Week 17 game against Chicago, Zimmer said, "He's a big, strong athlete."

"Obviously there's some things to clean up with him, but he has good feet, he's a smart guy, very athletic," Zimmer said. "Yeah, he's done well."