EAGAN, Minn. – On Saturday, the Vikings will play a game in front of fans at U.S. Bank Stadium for the first time in 595 days.
The team got a small sample of what to expect last weekend, when Minnesota hosted its first-ever scrimmage at the stadium. The crowd of 5,200 cheering fans generated an energetic buzz.
"It's going to be great," Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer told media members Wednesday. "We love to get the fans in there. I know it's a preseason game, but I hope it's full. I hope they're loud, that they have a great time and bring their buddies."
Added guard Dakota Dozier: "The fans here are phenomenal, and it will be excellent to have them in the stands."
The Vikings will host the Broncos for both teams' first exhibition contest, which will follow up a pair of joint practices Wednesday and Thursday. Saturday's game will be the first of just three preseason games this season, compared to the four teams had grown accustomed to between 1978 and 2019 (last year, preseason games were canceled).
There are pros and cons to cutting the final preseason game as the league shifts to a 17-game regular season, Zimmer noted.
"Well, I do know that a lot of times in the fourth preseason game, we had some 'bubble' guys who made the team because of how they performed in that game," he explained earlier this week, placing further emphasis on the practice time with Denver.
In the past, the third preseason game usually featured starters playing into the second half before most of them rested the next week.
How will Zimmer approach the new format and balance protecting players from injury with making sure they don't rust on the sideline?
"I've settled on it," he told reporters, while keeping specifics close to the vest.
Zimmer did say that first-round pick Christian Darrisaw will "probably be out" on Saturday while continuing to rehab a nagging injury. He also said that rookie QB Kellen Mond, who returned Tuesday from the Reserve/COVID-19 list, will not play.
View photos of Vikings players at the joint training camp practice with the Broncos on August 11 at the TCO Performance Center.
As far as the kicking competition between Riley Patterson and Greg Joseph, Zimmer said the latter will take all of the reps against Denver.
"Yeah, I think it'll be really fun. It'll be good to get back to as close to normal football as we can," Zimmer said during his Monday presser. "I'm not exactly sure how much I'm gonna play guys just because I'm trying to decide after how much work we get in against Denver. I know there's some guys who probably don't need a lot of work, and we'll get good work against them when we practice.
"I was talking to Harrison Smith about it some the other day, about trying to get some tackling in and things like that, so I do know that these guys, they need to get a little bit of action while they're getting ready to go and go against other people," he added. "Because you go against the same guys every day, you kind of get to know them. I anticipate that they'll play [in] the second game a pretty good amount, then we'll see where we're at for the third game."
Quarterback Kirk Cousins told media he'll gladly accept any reps he's given during the preseason.
Cousins missed five practices last week while on the Reserve/COVID-19 list and disclosed that he was deemed a close contact.
"We'll roll with what Coach [Zimmer] wants to do, as far as what he thinks is best for our team and making sure guys are healthy for the regular season. But I want to play as much as they'll let us play," Cousins said. "I think we're always going to get better from the reps, and so it's hard to not to want to be in there and learning.
"Even if you're making mistakes, you're making them in a time when it's not going to hurt you. So you'd rather go out there and make the mistakes in August than make them in September," Cousins continued. "It's up to the coaches to make those decisions on how much to balance that."
Regardless of who plays Saturday and how many minutes, the Vikings are simply looking forward to that irreplaceable game-day atmosphere.
"Super excited," said fullback C.J. Ham. "I know a lot of the first and second-year players who didn't get to do preseason last year are super excited. We're just super excited to have the fans back."